swans in half-mourning

review/introduction:

Luna Station QuarterlyJan Stinchcomb

“It might be called The Book of Surrender or The Burning Book of Radiant Glass. It might be called Swan Obsidian or The Book of Umbrella or The Iceland Book of Lake and Feather or Incineration. I really don't know because I found story so thoroughly and seductively cancelled here. Here I was allowed to forget for a while that that is what books aspire to tell, so taken was I by more enthralling and mysterious pleasures.” –Carole Maso
 
 “Gentle reader: Vi Khi Nao is a mind-cannibal. She will eat your brain. The night (reading this is precisely a night) will start out as a cool sleepover, where an older sibling regales you with charged stories that brave the edges of legality, combusting hormones and Pop Tarts in arabesques of the sacred and snark-attacks of mouth-made, explosive blats… narrative loops increasingly about everything ever, the way a bottle of wine is everything, in potential… Then You will try and pull your thoughts together; you will try and look back to see where you’ve been; in realizing you are only here now, there is no was, you will turn back to the present and that will be gone too. You will be demented. Language will have done it to you. The piece starts out as a fairy-tale feeding on myth meat – a lark (or swan) of a story that tilts over to a psychic origin myth if the psyche were a mutant superhero and you had an infinite bowl of cereal to eat as you watched the Saturday morning cartoon of it. Then – cards fall out of the sleeves and the organ bellows breaks; the mad swarming carnies and hucksters that are these paragraphs launch away centripetally from any central own scam, and sex, society - all shape flies loose into the opportunity of a night deeper than sarcasm and as uncertain as desire. You will wake up changed by an older sibling who has just run away from home.”
–Erik Ehn
 
Swans in Half-Mourning is creative and smart. The author’s intelligence shines through which made me desire a new and improved brain. I was left wanting, wishing I could competently do something such as this. The original fables had to be googled and researched for the proper read along. Overall I was left strung out and satisfied by the work.”
–Timothy Gager
 
 “Reading Vi Khi Nao’s writing is like ravenously eating a cake containing every expressive and erotic possibility in all the world. “Swans” exceeds our hopes for literature as for romance. Consensual physical terrains go up in sweet smoke as desire effortlessly rules a new landscape. So easily I can forget the other world and slip down this red throat. Just when you haven’t breathed for a while, there’s some humor, some spandex. It’s only life. It’s only true love. I truly love it.”

Dia Felix

   
 “Perhaps Swans in Half-Mourning is best read with a needle and thread in hand in order to sew a thread through words like ‘eyelash’ and ‘marshmallow’ and ‘cork’ and ‘voice’, so that after the book is finished, the reader may then follow the sewn trail back to the beginning. That is to say, it’s a book best read ten times, with new eyes and new skin each time. Then you might find the eucalyptus that is long burning. Otherwise, to only read it once, is to read a swan. To read it twice is to find a person. To read it three times, is to find a swan again, but this time wearing a shirt stained with tears. Chapter XCVI (Which, backwards says Vi Sees X (Or, as I read it, ‘Vi Marks the Spot’)) is a treat.”
–Anthony Luebbert
     
"God is on his knees, his monarchal butt cheeks pointing at the empyrean theater of human existence." Chances are any sentence you pick out at random from "Swans In Half-Mourning" will be as good as the one above. Vi Khi Nao's writing is skillfully controlled for maximum impact; the ellipses in between her sections as evocative as the images in her text. With taut and always surprising language, she delivers maximum pleasure. If you like Diane Williams, you'll definitely dig Vi Khi Nao. This is one for luxuriating.”
–Lee Yew Leong
     
 “Language is its own kind of feast. It contains within it words and pieces of words designed to be set apart (though together) and reserved for an occasion. Vi writes in preparation for a feast and she has always done it this way. Like a feast, the words in their arrangement are satisfying and yet, beautifully, pique a desire for more. While it is true that Swans in Half-Mourning is an adaptation of The Six Swans, it isn’t important to know anything beyond that. What Vi has achieved with this work is the creation of a mythology that happens to include the Grimm’s tale as a character. I’ll paraphrase J. Tillman (Father John Misty) from a recent album review. The best way to understand a mythology is to make your own. Using a piece of the world of The Six Swans, Vi has brought that story to her time. And she has brought the characters and events from it to be characters in her own mythology, just as she has made characters of god and Alexander McQueen in our world of bra-straps, aluminum buckets, Iceland, and YouTube. It doesn’t have to make sense to be beautiful.”
–Bradley Paynter
 
“Nao's is an imagination bursting at the seams, and Swans in Half-Mourning is seam-burstingly good, reconfiguring Grimm into a wonderfully expansive, seductive, and surreal space. Both formally inventive and poetically lush, everything filtered through Nao's mind turns into kaleidoscopically brilliant bits of candied language. Utterly unlike most anything you've read before, and such a pleasure to read.”
–Nick Francis Potter
 
Swans In Half-Mourning is far more than a mythical, magical lesbian love story. Like a fantasy journey that is both inspiring and seductive, it is a story of one's own innermost desires. Perhaps aligned with forbidden passions that flutter through the crevices of our minds. It is a haunting story of love, lust, searching, and seeking of the desires of two lovers. Swans in Half-Mourning is a poignant love story that is certain to entertain you and bring warmth to your heart. The author will leave you with a renewed awakening of your senses. SIHM is undoubtedly a book that has is deserved of a five star rating. Simply an epic story that is a must read.”
–Michael A. Reeves
 
 “I speak as I read Vi Khi Nao's Swans In Half-Mourning, maybe where my wedding takes place before my wedding and after my wedding. In the urgency of my mind. There is an expansion and a clairvoyant intelligence to this fragmentary work. Then a ravishing humor. Then it is a book of questions. It makes me want to wear lingerie to ask my heart why it is my imperious friend. And disarmingly clear: To quote Edmond Jabès, who will be a great fan, Vi's story leaves the grooves of story telling and becomes sheer discovery of speech at its end, in its last inscribed, audible moments. In Vi Khi Nao's letters, my mind stalks and resounds in the amplifier of the authority of love to overcome. In the shrills of its austerity love comes to me. Have I been so scared?”
–Ben Luton
 
“Vi Khi Nao's inventive and erotic rendition of the Grimm Brother's Six Swans moans with delightfully fresh images and unexpected linguistic twists and thrusts. 'How is it possible to have an orgasm without making sound?' is perhaps the central question the reader is confronted with as Cynthia tries to sew her brothers back into human, fleshy, phallic existence while being continuously seduced out of her six-year-long pledge of silence by her ravishingly feminine lover and wife, Veronika. While God lies idly on his belly counting the stars and Lucifer chokes on a Queen, Cynthia's narrative oscillates between breathless eroticism and childlike merriment - how else to silence moans but with a mouth stuffed full of marshmallows? - much like the waves of serious love-making interrupted by peaks of sudden laughter. I am left both satisfied in the shade of a cherry tree and longing longing ever longing for more.”
–Susannah Pabot
 
 “Some songs carry stories and some stories carry songs. While I was reading, emotions washed over me in ways that typically only occur when the orchestra swells, or when the bass drops on the dance floor. When I tried to maintain control, the illusion of the story pulled too hard on my mind. When I let go, my emotions moved and I felt the story. Like a dance with a partner you have never moved with, if you try to force what is there, you just end with an awkward two step. Letting go, you can find love. This book was my dance partner, my violin, my dj. When you read it, don't read for the story to be there. Read for the emotions the story imparts. Let it get in your heart, and dance.”
–Adam W Frey
    
 “A wonder-filled exploration of the taught line roping sacrifice to desire, Swans in Half-Mourning innovates the fairy-tale form. Borrowing techniques from fairy-tale, satire, humor, erotica, postmodern, lyric, and realist traditions, Nao illustrates the tangled faultiness of God’s own plans and pilots the middle ground between myth and flesh. Echoes of Donald Barthelme’s postmodern satire Snow White surface in the absurdly placed details (YouTube, Starbucks, Bauhaus 93 font) and the grotesque humor (a newly transformed swan navigates the logistics of toilet-flushing). Nao diverges from Barthelme most notably in her motley portrayal of women--women who subvert gender roles, women who sacrifice, women who nurture, women who revenge. Using a multifarious depiction of women, fragmented style, and lyricism, Nao summons Shelly Jackson’s “The Swan Brothers.” Whereas Jackson embraces disorientation, Nao arrests nonlinearity with Roman Numerals, both denying the use of time as a commodity (one of the tale’s central themes) and reinforcing its inevitability. In this sublime re-imagining of the classic Grimm fairy tale “The Six Swans,” Vi Khi Nao weaves a new form of fiction marked by its bold presentation of femininity and desire. In her own words: “They didn’t climb each other’s bodies because they were afraid of making a sound. Of converting their mythological flesh into desire, and desire into music.”
–Laura I. Miller
 
“Swans In Half-Mourning is enthralling. I fell into it and couldn't (or didn't want to) get out of it. And I think this has helped me pinpoint what it is that I like so much about Vi Khi Nao's writing. There are certain stories or books that you start where you, as the reader, are plunged directly into a situation or scene that is simultaneously confusing and pleasurable, and it's all the more entertaining because it's slightly mysterious or things are a little opaque. It's not so much a matter of story beginning in medias res--it's not as simple as that. I think my mental attitude, when I'm reading (or watching) something that plunges me into a world (like the one in Swans In Half-Mourning) is, "I'm not sure what this is right now, but I love it." Maybe that's what it is--that books like this provide a sense of exploration to the reader. Reading this work often felt like an adventure for me and that's exciting because not much prose ever feels like that. In some ways, Swans In Half-Mourning reminded me of a few William Trevor stories, where there's this cataract of the unknown that washes over you at the beginning and then you get more settled, you adjust, and you start to engage with everything that's happening on the page. So yes, this book made me think of Trevor and also Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, because it gave me the same pleasure as that book, where I enjoyed it sentence by sentence and also as something that I wanted to apprehend wholly in my mind.”
–Kevin Hyde
 
“What is most striking to me about this story is how it is more of a world than a limited story with a certain aim. The writing is lovely and off-kilter, most of it tells a story, but much of it feels like extra, with many seemingly random details or images, yet it is done consistently so it all feels like part of the plan. Certain words cycle through the text – throat, grape, bottle, sonic, thigh, etc., as if this world has its own language – such as the fact that everyone knows the queen as a slow-walking eucalyptus, as if these are the relevant terms, there are different standards and currencies of language here. There are some beautiful lines and passages on the relationship between Cynthia and Veronika, where what passes between them is evocative and erotic and transcendent. I think these are my favorite parts of the story, because Ms. Nao describes the nature of an intimate relationship in ways that make complete sense yet are highly abstract. She's able to get at what happens and passes through when two people are in love while also bearing great burdens. The tiny intimacies and elusive, ephemeral moments, most of which are devoid of speech, are so accurate. Ms. Nao took this fairy tale and made it her own multi-faceted, strange world and most of it feels just right.”
–Emily Abrons

© 2020 VI KHI NAO. All rights reserved.