Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Cassia," by Lanette Kauten: a brief review

Cassia, the second published novel by Lanette Kauten, is the story of a romantic relationship between two women in Deep Ellum, an arts district of Dallas, Texas, around 1990. It is also a tale about our world asking important questions about meaning and significance.

Tanya Falgoust is a young journalist covering the local arts scene for an alternative newspaper who finds herself unexpectedly seduced by a mysterious performance artist with the stage name Cassia who has become a local sensation. From early on the relationship is both passionate and tempestuous, as Tanya struggles to deal with her infatuation in light of obvious dysfunction and manipulation -- Cassia refuses even to divulge her real name to her lover. While Tanya -- and her friends -- are disturbed about the relationship, her attraction to Cassia prevents her from breaking it off, resulting in a rollercoaster ride that will be too familiar to many readers, heterosexual and otherwise.

Among other things, the couple disagree strongly over the significance of their sexual connection. To the inexperienced Tanya, sexuality has meaning with regard to an emotional bond and deep connection. Cassia, who is more hardened, regards sex as more about having a good time, and she torments Tanya with advances suggesting expanding their liaison to include other friends. The interactions call forth the questions: what does physical intimacy really mean? Does the existence of a passion mean that someone should indulge it?

Of course, sex is not the only area of life for which modern men and women have questions about ultimate meaning. We ask similar questions nowadays about art, music, culture, and even religion. Perhaps especially religion. Do these areas of life possess any sort of transcendent value or meaning, or do they exist purely for individual taste and enjoyment? If they do have meaning, how is that impacted by those who hawk them? Do investors and salesmen enhance art, music, culture, and religion by making them available to a wider audience, or do they cheapen them by turning them into commodities? The novel asks those questions through the prism of Tanya and Cassia's relationship.

While the book deals with serious questions such as these, it does so while remaining an engaging page turner with complex and eccentric characters, as well as a riveting plot. Bonnie, who is Tanya's roommate, is a tattoo artist and medical school student with a talent for getting men to buy her drinks. Rodney, an aging Jesus freak who owns a bar in Deep Ellum that doesn't sell alcohol (readers who find that far fetched should know that such an establishment existed at the time), worries that investors are turning Deep Ellum into "Shallow Ellum." Nick, a pothead in his 30's, is still hoping beyond hope to get his break as a singer. His longstanding love interest in Tanya goes tragically unrequited and barely noticed.

That the opening chapter of the novel, which occurs 20 years after the remainder of the book, finds Tanya married to a man and wondering where Cassia is means that it is not a spoiler to suggest that their relationship would not last. A shocking, yet unforced, plot twist drives the plot to an emotional conclusion.

Cassia is both a story for our times and an engaging read. While Amazon and B&N currently only show it for sale as an e-book, I understand that it will soon be available in print form, as well. I encourage you to check it out.


Blogger Norma said...

Long time between posts.

10:16 AM  
Blogger MCO said...

Thanks for checking the blog. I rarely post here anymore. I occasionally post at my other blog -- The Monroe Doctrine -- and write notes for FB. That is about all I have time for these days.

Lanette doesn't blog here any more -- she keeps working on novels such as the one I reviewed here, so that takes up most of her creative energy.

11:16 AM  
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