Illustrated by Zachary Tanner
With an Introduction by David Vardeman
Note from Rick Harsch, corona\samizdat chief editor
This publication of this book is a rare, unrepeatable stroke of luck. In Slovenia writers from a couple dozens countries are making a bare living, mostly not by writing. Yet there is one annual literary opening for us who don’t write in Slovenian. A contest is held every year for the best works by writers writing in their foreign hand; the winners printed in a slim volume in their language and Slovenian. I had work accepted a few times. The only obligation was to attend a reading. I met some interesting people who mostly had better things to do, and rushed through their readings, as few if any in the audience knew their languages. Exceptions were notable, a slender Hungarian teen poet, who read like the castigating angel, and a Serbian prose poet who read like an Albanian prosecutor toying with Milošević. We all spoke and drank afterwords and forgot each other. That last event was about 7 years ago. One writer I spoke a bit with was a Macedonian living in Slovenia named Lidija Dimkovska, who I found out last summer had published a highly regarded book called in English A Spare Life. Feeling the powerful of my new life as a publisher I asked about her plans and she let me know very quickly that she had a great publisher she was happy with. But that did serve to fix in my mind that Hungarian and Serb. The Hungarian is in music now, and the Serb has gone back to Serbia, where after a few weeks I was able to get in contact with her. She pretended to find the idea of publishing a book preposterous, but managed to let me know that she no longer writes she had a short epistolary novel, untitled. If I was interested I could publish it, but she wanted nothing to do with the thing. I asked her to send it, read it, and my hair was torn off by winds the book generated on a fucking computer screen. It hurt and I bled.
One problem remained. Of her protagonists, one was Serbian and she was confident in her translation of her. The other was English, and for very good reason she was not so confident in that translation, which made sense as there were blank spaces throughout her letters. When you read the book you will see why. We worked daily through this machine for about two weeks, seeking the best words for what she wanted Margaret to express. I generally understood exactly, yet still could not imagine words that would work where she wanted them. Some had yet to be invented. Those were the easy ones, once we found that was the case. The rest, well, when they sound good, they went in. At the end of two weeks or so, we were both happy. Overall I was ecstatic. The only problem that remained was the title. I promised her that I would admit that it was my idea. I came up with Tendrilopolis and she loved it.
Other promises were necessary to make this happen. Her identity could not be revealed. She even had to approve my chosen pseudonym, Vesna Radić, which I got on the first try. Her city had to be concealed. Maybe it’s Novi Sad, maybe not. I wrote of this elsewhere and she didn’t approve and these are the changes she excepted. For revenge, I insisted on an author photo. She told me I was clearly out of my mind. But, no. I want an author photo for this book. I don’t give a rat’s ass who is in the photo, I want an author photo. So decide for yourself if the real author is in the author photo.
Introduction by David Vardeman
Who is Vesna Radić? It little matters, given that we have the letters. No amount of biographical information or author quotes or interviews could enhance or elucidate this fierce epistolary duel. It generates and sustains its own brilliant light, all that we need, and has what all literature worth consideration should have: life after the author, apart from him or her.
The supposed motivating force behind the initial letter is simple: Branka asks Margaret, who has taken her husband Rado, about the circumstances surrounding Rado’s death by drowning. He’d had a deathly fear of drowning, shall we say, and so the manner of his death is ironic to ominous. But does Branka’s quest for clarity on this one subject entirely explain her gesture? Certainly not. Margaret came as a visiting professor to Serbia and was first a friend of the married couple, then Branka’s cuckoldress, eventually returning with Branka’s husband to her home in London. Branka has discovered through her connections in London that Rado recently left Margaret for a younger woman, Alma, and shortly thereafter met his end in water. Accident? Suicide? Murder? Tell me what you know. Can I believe what you tell me? Meanwhile, know that I more than suspect you, loathe you, am intrigued by you and want you to count me as real, still connected to you by your treachery, whatever its extent.
From the start, Branka’s enflamed emotional response to all things Margaret is evident. In the initial letter, Branka tells Margaret it is her time “to come to terms with what you two did to me, but not to berate you.” However, she quickly rearranges her schedule and finds sufficient time to berate her correspondent, and eloquently.
Branka’s hatred of Margaret, she quickly admits, exists with the finer aspects of her being, and the opening letter is to be the first “assay into a vulnerability that builds the trust we will require to correspond to our mutual benefit.”
The sexual rivalry between the two women is omnipresent, though three years have passed since Rado left Branka. As Branka says in a later letter, “Even when we first begin to hate a man, we can’t help but suffer from such rapid replacement,” the implication being that pain strengthens connection, a simple truth so evident in life we might not have noticed it or put it in quite those terms before. For the two women in this once-triangle now missing the element that had made it complete in lust and pain, what began can never end but is transformed into something wilder, more feral, more tenacious, like the tendrils from which Rado cannot free himself as he drowns.
Margaret is all for entering the hellfire gates of life after libertinage. Long live man-damning women. She castigates the weaker Branka, claiming that by relieving her of Rado, so to speak, she saved her from living an existence Branka secretly despised. Women are enough to fill each other up. But to what extent, beyond cuckoldry, was she responsible for liberating Branka, and then herself, from Rado? Did death alone accomplish that? Did death, that massive heart-bursting sexual climax, have a handmaid?
Why go further in explication? Summaries will no more convey the exotic, lush, enigmatic, tempestuous, hyperbolic, melodramatic, hilarious, and sometimes horrifying sexual thrusts these letters employ as the two women attempt to drive each other away from the corpse of Rado, each like Antigone guarding Polyneices, than Radic’s biography will explain how a single creative artist could with such virtuosic skill speak so powerfully, inventively from both sides of the battle. Each woman has a style all her own, a cache of linguistic fireworks, a distinct and inimitable way of presenting herself, no small feat. Damning men, symbolically ridding themselves of Rado as they have been relieved of him physically, the two women flirt with becoming lovers. They grudgingly reach a state of mutual triumph, a complete abandonment to blasphemy and an obliteration of boundaries. Indecency as a concept is dead, along with Rado. What begins as a dialogue between mortal enemies turns into a dialogue between two mortal enemies closing ranks, strapping on dildos, not armor or swords, as they prepare to ride one another. Branka is intrigued by Margaret’s campaign, a testament to Margaret’s considerable powers of seduction, even if Branka also recognizes it for what it is, or may be, an attempt on Margaret’s part to pull her further away from Rado and to obscure the truth surrounding his death.
Tendrilopolis is, among many things, one gushing fountain of refined, lucid, poetic obscenity, a glorification of bodily effluvia: semen, menstrual blood, afterbirth, feces, tears; a worship of the totality of being. In the course of Tendrilopolis, every bodily function, every inversion of value serves a passion and is made sacred by its liberation from a prudishness that encourages its devotees, to their own peril, to ignore their very bodies and the tendrils that link their bodies to their hearts, dark as those hearts might be.
Abandon hypocrisy, all ye who enter here. Refuse to enter, to your own loss.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
I. Peeping Marge
II. Branka’s Figure
III. Margaret’s Figure
IV. Cheroot Cooch
V. Bacchus, Peter Paul Rubens
VI. Rado’s Ratio
VII. Alma’s Ratio
VIII. An Incredible Throupling
IX. The Repentant Glory Hole
X. Something Long and Graygreen