Rita Indiana

Book cover

Picked this novella up after seeing it on a “small presses” display at a local bookstore–the very eye-catching cover helped!

How to describe this book? My best attempt is “Sorry to Bother You crossed with Cloud Atlas.” I’m sure no further explanation is needed…

Actually it also reminds me a fair amount of another Caribbean speculative fiction book I read last year, Marcia Douglas’s “Marvellous Equations of the Dread.” Like that book, “Tentacle” is heavily influenced by a Caribbean spiritual tradition I didn’t know much about (Santeria in this case, Rastafarianism in the other book), and both also involve time travel and rebirth in different bodies. Here there is a much stronger queer element, with one of the spiritual rebirths driven by the character Acilde’s desire for a gender transition. “Tentacle” is definitely much more sexually explicit and foul-mouthed, including some disturbing sexual assault–so be aware of that before reading. I have to say that I totally disagree with other reviewers who have compared this to Murakami. The tone is completely different, and Indiana engages with weighty issues of history, colonialism, racism, misogyny, etc. in a way that Murakami never does.

Overall I had a little trouble following all of the plot points, but that didn’t feel super important as the book mostly gave me the feeling of hanging on for the ride. Among other things, Indiana constantly shifts between tenses within a single paragraph or even sentence, to capture the disorientation of the characters who shift between multiple times. The plot, perhaps surprisingly, also had some resonance with the Ted Chiang story “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” as an exploration of time travel that does not involve altering the course of history. It’s definitely one of the more creative and adventurous books I’ve read this year.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars