Though it's from Small Beer Press, Generation Loss is not a fantasy novel even by SBP’s loose (and wonderful) standards. Instead, it is a meditation on artists, specifically artists who go to extremes to complete their vision.
The main character, Cass, is an NYC throwback to punk nights passing out, shooting up and night clubbing—kind of a Nan Goldin type, except more lone wolf. Her photography, while respected is merely a footnote and with her stank walk-up and graying hairs, her career is that of a never-was. “But for the rest of your life you’re fucked, because you blew it. Maybe no one else knows it, but you do. In my case, it was no secret. Some people can make do in a situation like that. Me, I’ve never been good at making do.”
So, yeah, it’s in first person, and Cass’s voice can occasionally grates (mostly when Hand uses some tough-guy attitude to couch exposition). Mostly though, Hand’s characterizations are quite thorough. Her exploration of two types of outsiders—artists and the people in their worlds (unhappy children and partners, crazies, hangers on), and Mainers (ex-hippies, trapped kids and xenophobic natives) is what, even more than the tense mystery, drove the novel for me. Hand juxtaposes the setting’s natural beauty with the ruin that humans bring so deftly it becomes almost another character.
As for the mystery, which takes us from a boring present-day NYC to a remote community in Maine, its pretty good. Presented as a chance for Cass to make some money (and maybe a stab at a piece of art-celebrity) by nabbing an interview a reclusive photographer, her trip to Maine and the search for the artist in question becomes increasingly sinister. As Cass gets drawn into the mystery of Aphrodite Kamestos’ hermitude and disintegration, a different unpleasantness rocks the local community—the disappearance of a girl. The two are linked, of course, but the connection unfolds very delicately until the big reveal, which doesn’t disappoint.
If you are looking for a atmospheric mystery, and a window into a weird part of America, get Generation Loss now.