Stranded in the Jungle--14

Blood of Mugwump

BLOOD."In bed under Caddie touching me, our lips parted, spitting blood. I began happening out of nowhere. This was the beginning of bleeding. Straight into Caddie. You will not die from bleeding. I am not among the dead. My sister's breath strange and unsettling. You will bleed into life, not into death. Caddie exhausting her body into me. And between my thighs I felt the making of language." This is Doug Rice, in his 1996 novel Blood of Mugwump. The book might be called a romance about three generations of transsexual vampires. But that makes it seem more linear than it actually is. Nothing in this novel is quite solid. Everything oozes and runs, in a viscous flow. The book is filled with mud, blood, and saliva. These are dense, gooey substances, thicker than water. They congeal, time and again, into flesh and into language. But they never maintain any one shape for very long. They are always bleeding into new configurations. The novel is a flux of words, meeting a flux of bodies. Rice's gorgeous prose stutters and sings by turns. Words cascade in syncopated rhythms. Pronouns shift in gender, person, and number. Sentences break into fragments. Phrases proliferate in kaleidoscopic patterns. Echoes of other texts (by Faulkner, Joyce, Eliot, and Burroughs) resound from page to page. Utterances arise deep in the body: in the throat, the belly, the cunt. Language is intensely carnal. This gets in the way of meaning. As Doug says of Caddie, "she had always had trouble with sentences, running sense over the tops of things... Scattering frozen syllables, lost, on the floor, words were arrested, made to suffer on her tongue." The word becomes flesh, and suffers a kind of Passion. Cosmic confusion ensues. There's no way to distinguish between the genders. Men have cunts, and women have cocks. Bodies are as unstable as words. You can't even tell where one ends and the other begins. Doug and Caddie twist in an eternal dance. She is his sister. But she is also his father. Or else she is his drag persona. Or else he is hers. She is so close, as to suffocate him with her presence. Yet she always manages to evade his touch and his glance. No wonder Doug has no sense of himself. Caddie fucks him senseless. She turns him into a woman, and back into a man. There is no end to these transformations. The novel is full of tales of gender confusion. Doug as a child is seduced by the older girl next door. Doug as an adult is arrested for dressing as a woman. Poppy Torgov, Doug's grandfather, appears as a bearded lady at the County Fair. Grandma Mugwump, Doug's grandmother, is born male. She becomes a woman by devouring female flesh. She recalls when Poppy Torgov told her "how I could become a woman again and my cock getting hard just thinking about it." These delirious stories never add up to a plot that you can follow. The book is like a labyrinth with no exits. Time flows backward. Events precede their causes. Caddie talks and talks, "breeding her own ancestors out of the river stories" that she tells. The past is not recovered by this method. Rather, even the present moment turns into a story. It becomes distant and unreal, already drowned in the past. It seems to Doug "as if the past had taken Caddie over the edge into some sort of abyss." But Grandma Mugwump is that abyss, in person. Her monstrous figure is the focus of every story. She spends the entire novel lying sick in bed, endlessly speaking, endlessly dying. Doug and Caddie explore her reeking flesh. They crawl in "the craters on her belly." They unravel the dizzying folds of her cunt. They watch her eyes glow in the dark while she sleeps. They lose themselves in the vast recesses of her bed, and need help to find their way out again. Through all this, Doug learns what it means to be a girl. A cunt is barely visible from the outside. But it contains volumes, and it can swallow up the world. "What do you see?" is the urgent question that Caddie keeps asking Doug. "Tell me what you see." All he can answer at first is: "nothing there." For you can't just look at a cunt. You have to touch it and feel it. You have to discover it in your own body. The pain of bleeding finally teaches Doug that yes, something is there. It's all a matter, Caddie explains to him, of "the control of blood." Menstruation is the origin of language. Words and blood alike gush from between the thighs. And that is why Doug "will bleed into life, not into death." He's bound to this flesh, whether he likes it or not.

Return to STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE Table of Contents

Go to my homepage

email me:

Doug Rice's web pages

purchase Blood of Mugwump from