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A Mouthful of Tongues: Her Totipotent Tropicanalia
Paul Di Filippo
Wildside Press/Cosmos Books, 180 pages

Franz von Stuck
A Mouthful of Tongues: Her Totipotent Tropicanalia
Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of five story collections, Destroy All Brains, The Steampunk Trilogy, Ribofunk, Fractal Paisleys, and Lost Pages. Paul Di Filippo's first novel, Ciphers, was published by Cambrian Publications and Permeable Press. Cambrian Publications plans to publish two more of his novels: Joe's Liver and Spondulix.

Paul Di Filippo Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Year in the Linear City
SF Site Review: Strange Trades
SF Site Review: Strange Trades
SF Site Review: Lost Pages
SF Site Review: Ribofunk
SF Site Review: Fractal Paisleys
SF Site Review: The Steampunk Trilogy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

This bold, hallucinatory catalogue of sexuality is a most singular work. Written with an orgiastic abandon worthy of R. Crumb, but with a beauty of language and imagination entirely the author's own, A Mouthful of Tongues represents a possible apogee in literary erotica (or for the more base-minded, pornography) far excelling in verve and energy any similar work I have encountered. It is a book that quite literally bathes in seminality. But this tale is far more than a fictional litany of sexual acts or prurient fantasy, a mere celebration of bacchanalia, though it is impossible to ignore this aspect. This is also a story of salvation, perhaps for some found in the most unexpected of places.

The heroine, Kerry Hackett, is to undergo a transformation brought on by three acts of degradation, perhaps only the outward manifestation of a deeper despair of the spirit in a world patrolled by soldiers, stalked by disease and common acts of terrorism, and defined by occupation that only serves the interest of others. In a moment of desperation that will be later be interpreted as suicide, Kerry exposes herself to an experiment, the creation of a benthic entity composed entirely of totipotent cells. This creature merges and absorbs both Kerry's body and identity, in the process becoming something more. Free of its former confinement, the new entity, disguised in human form, and guided in part by Kerry's own consciousness and dreams, flees the modern world of urban America for the jungles of Latin American Bahia.

In a coastal town plied by the breeze of the sea and brine, surrounded by the jungle and remote tribes of indios, Kerry physically appropriates the identity of a Senhorita Yemana, and ensconces herself as a boarder at the Blue Afternoon Hotel. Never leaving her room, she pays for her stay by providing sexual favors for the owner, who is both enthralled and afraid of her. The senhorita is able to perform acts of sex Arlindo Quincas has never before experienced, molding her body in ways that exquisitely heighten his passion and experience, and with an appetite that appears insatiable. He quickly comes to believe she is a bruja, a witch, but is unable to resist her charms, even though he closes his eyes so he cannot see her physical metamorphoses. In time, after bearing a Bloodchild born of menstrual fluids, saliva and the wads of tissue used in substitution for sanitary pads, Kerry resumes her original human form, and abandons Arlindo and the hotel to spread both miracles and sexual mayhem throughout the town. Eventually, her orgy of carnality comes to the attention of a tribe of indios, whose shaman recognizes her as a saint, if insane, and arranges her captures in order to return her to her original benthic state, and initiate a new apotheosis that can be taught the "true path."

Disguised within a graphic, relentless and often lyrical description of carnal pleasures that admit no taboos, the author weaves a metaphorical and allegorical story that looks to a deeper, darker, even dangerous aspect of our humanity that is identified and associated with our inheritance of bestiality, drawing upon literary traditions as varied and relevant as Ovid or Conrad's Heart of Darkness. And in more ways than just its vivid and primordial description, the jungle conjures memories of Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord or Coppola's defining moment of Eden in Apocalypse Now. In similar if quite different ways, this becomes a tale of revelation and salvation that inverts the precepts of Christianity and consolatory notions of humanity upon its head, instead seeing our redemption within a relict of our nature both denied and most comfortably ignored. In the process, this slim novel becomes truly remarkable.

Perhaps at no time previously has the author's prose and imagination served him as well. Unparalleled, this is a work that alone should establish Paul Di Filippo's legacy. Unfortunately, its potentially controversial subject matter may limit its appreciation and ultimate audience. This is a shame, for even if not approbative of erotic titillation and marvelously written and suggestive passages -- "like filling out of a bitten bonbon" -- this complex and unfettered tale is both disturbing and thought-provoking, and deserves to be read. Even though at times shocking in its unbridled wantonness, perverse and subversive, the explicit, at times extravagant carnality is not simply gratuitous. Nor is it solely indulgent or anti-feminist, though those that fail to look closely may read it that way. Instead the abandoned eroticism both informs and individually characterizes this work -- a marriage not made in heaven.

On the inside cover, A.A. Attansio succinctly describes this as "sacred sin." I suspect the Pope would call it heresy.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction. In addition to his writing, he is pursuing masters degrees in information science as well as history at Indiana University.

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