Writer: Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem
I have to be honest here: I'm biased. Not in the obvious way though. Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem were the writers-in-residence during the dreaded Week 5 of Odyssey 2005. Well, them and Melanie's guide dog, Dominic, who I think kept us all sane. The Tems were a sharp couple, and they thoroughly interacted and engaged with every single one of us students, and they always gave each us of their full attention. I have to admit, I didn't always agree with their crits (of my own work, of course. ;)) but they were open, honest, and willing to TALK about the work and get to know us better, and that left a far more lasting impression in my mind than anything else.
The only writing of theirs I've read were two short stories (one from each writer) right before they showed up at Odyssey. I didn't pay much attention then, because I didn't know them and the stories didn't grab me at the time, and I've never sought out their work. Until now.
I saw this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program, and I didn't hesitate to sign up for an ARC. Why not? This was a book they'd written TOGETHER, and it had a gorgeous cover. I couldn't pass it up.
And it turns out, I didn't have to. I won my copy of the ARC, and decided to hell with whatever I thought of the book, I was getting the REAL copy anyway, so I passed my ARC on to digitalclone and snuggled up with the REAL, pretty-cover copy.
This is one of those reviews that doesn't need a cut. Hell, it doesn't even need a blurb about the premise, because the book is beautiful, surreal, and haunting in such a subtle way you're not even sure it's happening until it suddenly grips you. The Man on the Ceiling is in many ways, creative non-fiction, but it's practically an interstitial work, a book that blurs the lines between fact, fiction, memory, and imagination, but grounds it all in truth. I rarely had trouble discerning when Melanie wrote versus Steve, and the times I did, it didn't matter. Their writing flows together, entwines in such a way that having a book with two different first person POVs feels like it's come from one body, one mind, one soul. But it isn't.
I'm not entirely sure how my reaction to this book is based on the fact I got to spend a week with this amazing couple. I suspect quite a bit, to be honest, but yet, you can't argue the beauty of the whole book put together. I was reminded of Valente's work. I was reminded of Winterson's. And that's high praise. There's such a simple, deceptive beauty to this prose that you don't even realize that at the book's heart, it's horror, but horror in the most realistic ways imaginable. Key word: imagine.
Must Have: close to "the keeper shelf," but suspect it might take a second reading to bump it up a notch. Like I said, it's very possible I'm simply biased, but I thoroughly enjoyed this read, this autobiography of the Tem's imagination, of their lives, of their children. It's a surreal piece, and one not easily forgotten.