The writings of Rikki Ducornet elude easy description. Her fiction draws from folk tales but takes them into stranger places, finding subtly experimental takes on narratives that at once echo and defy the familiar. "The Deep Zoo," then, is a collection of essays on topics ranging from contemporary art to mysticism, as well as a meditation on society and certain ornate tendencies in fiction. In the title essay, Ducornet cites the writings of Julio Cortázar, Clarice Lispector and Italo Calvino; later in the book, she also will invoke the films of David Lynch. What they all share is a constantly shifting aesthetic and a disregard for narrative traditions, whether cinematic or literary. It's this milieu that Ducornet seeks to explore.
Early in "The Deep Zoo," Ducornet muses on a phrase of Calvino's and arrives at an essential paradox: "If poetry is the enemy of chance, it is also the daughter of chance." Contradictions abound here; spotlighted throughout the book are artists, such as Anne Hirondelle and Margie McDonald, whose works evolve out of (and sometimes complement) spaces in unexpected ways. Two overarching themes run through "The Deep Zoo." One is essentially ecstatic.
"Years ago," Ducornet writes, "a gift of a magic mushroom revealed to me, metaphorically at least, the origins of everything." The other theme is political: There are plenty of evocations of controversies that emerged during George W. Bush's presidency, with Ducornet at one point finding parallels between characters from the mind of the Marquis de Sade and contemporary militarism and corporate greed. And she contrasts her visits to New York's Museum of Natural History as a child with more somber trips that she has made there more recently: "These days, the visit evokes the morgue because so many of these marvelous creatures have been pushed off the edge into oblivion."
"The Deep Zoo" examines alphabets and systems of categorization; from them, she argues, we can learn more about the state of being human. The duels found in this book between insightful observations of art and literature and rage at political and societal abuses sometimes make for an unpredictable reading experience. But Ducornet's skill at drawing unexpected connections, and her ability to move between outrage and meditativeness, are gripping to behold.
Tobias Carroll is managing editor of Vol. 1 Brooklyn.