Kathe Koja’s Velocities is a Major, Genre-Transcending Achievement

kathekoja

Kathe Koja’s work has always contended with complex issues: the limits of agonistic art, performance/performativity, and expressions of embodiment. From her groundbreaking debut horror novel, The Cipher (1991), to her 1997 collection Extremities, the author often evaluates these topics through the porous boundaries of horror. Of course, it is not only Koja’s compelling thematic engagements that set her writing apart, but also her crackling, inimitable, urgent prose style.

Koja’s career-long fixations persist in her new collection, Velocities, one of the most vital, haunting, and commanding genre releases in recent years. Particularly noteworthy is the book’s interest in art (especially performance art) as a catalyst for negotiations with trauma. Two stand-out examples are “Velocity,” which sees its performance artist reliving a horrific event through his work, and “Pas de Deux,” which depicts a woman grappling with the interior catharsis of dance versus exterior demands on her body. Indeed, this tension between desires of interiority and those of embodied, physical reality (central to novels like Skin [1993] and Strange Angels [1994]) shows up repeatedly throughout this collection.

When dealing with Koja, one of the twentieth century’s major American horror novelists, it seems impossible to avoid the question of genre. Is Velocities a “genre” collection? Undoubtedly Koja lays bare her expertise on genre forms and modes (“The Marble Lily” might be the most convincing contemporary imitation of nineteenth-century Gothic I’ve read), but this book circumvents customary genre structures at nearly every turn. Within the first couple stories, it dawned on me that Koja’s fiction is a genre unto itself; hers is a body of work defined by singular style. Truly, Koja’s voice is among the most distinctive and invigorating I have ever encountered.

Koja maximizes on that which is specific to the written medium; her wildly unique prose style delivers affective experiences that I cannot imagine transmitting fully to any other artistic form. At the same time, though, Koja draws often on the tactility of performance and dance, imagining the many ways in which artistic modes can either mirror or contend with each other.

Suffice to say Velocities is, like any other Koja book, a major event. Koja’s work has had more impact on me and my work than I can possibly express. Time and again, her fiction has reinvigorated me and helped me imagine the boundless literary potential of genre. It is no exaggeration to say that she is among the most important writers in horror, and a major figure in contemporary American fiction more broadly.

Buy Velocities.

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