This is a book by Francesca Lia Block
. It was published in 1994 but quickly went out of print
--Block did not then have the reputation she now holds (wrested from the unforgiving literary community with the young adult novel Weetzie Bat
), and so the book was lost to obscurity, available to enthusiasts only in collectors' editions that cost several hundred dollars. However, as her reputation grew, more and more people wished to get copies of Ms. Block's earliest novels, and happily, Primavera
and its prequel, Ecstasia
, were re-released in paperback
in early 2004
This book, like Ecstasia, is amazingly poetic and deals with the same issues of youth versus age, drug abuse, homosexuality, parental issues, and love. And like the previous novel, it is laced with references to Greek mythology. But unlike its prequel, it is told mainly in first person, which makes the style that much more enjoyable and real and tangible. It is the story of a young girl whose song literally makes flowers grow; a girl whose family sought to escape from a paradise only to found an oasis of their own, with their daughter acting as the missing piece of a fantastical puzzle.
Primavera is the daughter of Calliope and Dionisio, who in turn are half of the band Ecstasia. The other half of the band, Rafe and Paul, join with her parents to make her family. Long ago, when she was first born, her parents had lived in Elysia, the carnival-land, and had chosen to escape to the desert rather than live for youth and then hide themselves in the underground once they became old. After making this choice, they had fled and somehow created a lush oasis in the desert purely with the magic of their music, and it was there that they brought Primavera to be raised. Soon enough they found out that the young "spring-child" had her own magic: Flowers appeared and bloomed whenever she sang.
Now a young adult, Primavera admires Paul and wishes that he liked women so that he would be attracted to her. She does not care that he is years older than her and scarred about the face; he was always very tough on her to sing, sing, keep singing so that she would learn to use her voice as an instrument. (This behavior is reminiscent of Paul's insistence that Rafe learn to drum, even when his arm was broken, back in the days when they lived in Elysia.) She admires him all the more for his pressure.
One day a stranger named Gunn comes to the desert, and of course the members of Ecstasia give him food and shelter. He makes it very obvious that he would like to sell some transportation equipment to people out where they live, and though everyone is insistent that no one wants to go anywhere, Primavera is captivated by the idea that she could leave, go somewhere she's never been. Because her mother, Calliope, can read her thoughts, she feels that she's a bit suffocated by her mother's protection, and though Calliope gives her a warning to be careful, she acknowledges that if she wants to leave no one can stop her.
In the night, Primavera wakes up and goes for a walk to look at Paul and Rafe's tent, and is met by the stranger. Gunn offers her a motorcycle in exchange for a song--he's heard about her and wants to see her power of making flowers bloom with her voice. She refuses, rattled, and retreats. But the next day Gunn happens to overhear a song she sings for Paul, and considers the bargain fulfilled. Because of some comments he makes about "mutants" (including in their company "men who have sex with men," an obvious clue that he knows about Rafe and Paul's relationship), they run him out of there, but he leaves the cycle behind in a secret cave, knowing Primavera will not be able to resist.
At a full moon festival, Primavera goes to Paul after drinking some wine, and confesses her love for him. He does not respond, which angers Primavera to the point that she runs away hating everyone, spending the night sleeping in a cave next to the motorcycle. She awakes having gotten her period in the night, and is angered by the sight of the blood because it reminds her that she female and therefore not attractive to Paul. When she comes home her mother says they've been worried, but Primavera angrily insists that Calliope knows everything she does and everywhere she goes anyway, so why would she worry? Primavera makes the decision to leave her family behind and go to Elysia; Paul will never love her, so her world must lie elsewhere. She leaves only a note.
The chapter ends with a little take from each of the Ecstasia members, about how they feel about her leaving. Calliope's is told in a vision, ending by her lament over distance creating a barrier between her and her daughter's mind; she can no longer sense her presence, which is frightening. Paul, surprisingly, writes secret words about how he feels love for Primavera a lot the way he feels love for Rafe, the way she makes him feel alive like no one else does. Rafe simply fears for his niece's safety, and writes that he recognizes Paul's love for her, and acknowledges that her love for Paul and her wish to go to Elysia are perfectly natural for her situation. And Dionisio, her father: He laments the loss of his daughter, not only because she left, but because the child she used to be left a long time ago.
She rides the bike toward the city, coming upon disturbing sights such as a pollution-clogged sea, a cage of cows awaiting slaughter, and a dead mermaid. Finally she arrives at an outpost city of some kind, and some children are mildly interested in her presence . . . until she starts to sing. Sunflowers sprout from nearby refuse, which delights the children (even though they immediately pick the flowers and try to eat them, which makes Primavera very uncomfortable). The children, thinking she is a fairy, ask her to go back to their city with them, so she decides a distraction won't hurt, and puts her bike on their boat.
Arriving in their city--called Neverland--Primavera is disgusted by the filth and the manners of the children (they attack and eat a pigeon right on the street), so she speeds off on her motorcycle looking for a place to stay. One of the little boys, River, has stowed away on her bike, and when she notices him he volunteers that she can stay with him. Through little jumps into River's perspective, we realize that his mother was a sort of harpy creature, a bird-woman, and that he has inherited some but not all of her features (such as growing feathers on his head instead of hair, but he plucks them out so he looks bald and no one knows his ancestry). He takes Primavera to the library and they read about flowers and poetry. Then she sings up flowers that they trade for food, and it becomes a regular transaction to produce flowers for sustenence for the two of them. They bond when Primavera finds out that River plucks out his feathers, and she trades him a braid of her hair that she has cut off in exchange for a necklace made of the lovely blue feathers.
After a while of this, a boat of giants comes in, selling cow carcasses for meat. Primavera wants to escape this place and get to Elysia, and she ends up leaving River behind because it is too dangerous to stow away and endanger the little boy as well. She is found as a stowaway, though, and they think she is a boy because she is dressed as one and has short hair. They tell her they will make her a slave and make her slaughter cows, and keep giving her dead meat to eat, but she won't eat it. Soon enough they figure out she is a woman and try to have their way with her, but that is the last straw, and Primavera uses her singing to drive the giants back and get to her motorcycle. She escapes, singing of the ocean.
Again the chapter ends with each Ecstasia member taking a turn saying how things are going. Paul opens, missing her and saying he understands her running away because he has also experienced a love for someone he thought could never return it . . . and he implores her to come back to the people who miss her. Rafe says that the desert is drying up in her absence, that Ecstasia needed her to work their magic on the garden. Dionisio laments that he never told her he loved her, appealing to her to come back because her mother is now acting like the Calliope-creature she'd been replaced with back in Elysia; he says that it is different loving the woman she has become, and he doesn't like thinking of her having strong affections for a man the way he has affections for Calliope, but likens desire to a good wine. And Calliope . . . she is going crazy without having contact with her daughter, only getting a whispery vision that she is in peril, surrounded by death.
In the next chapter, we meet Arcadie, a girl who looks like Primavera and happens to see her performing through a window. She is the lover of a centaur who has been taken away by "the man"--the same man who River said took his mother away. She is wishing she was part of her lover so that as one great beast they could have been taken away together. Meanwhile, Primavera is finding her place in the city of Elysia, discovering that her flower-power only produces false flowers made of silk or paper or jewels here. She feels incredibly guilty for leaving her family and for leaving River. Arcadie comes into the club where she is singing one night, compliments her, and offers her a place to stay. Primavera feels that Arcadie is her kindred, just as Arcadie thought they looked like sisters. After feeling rattled by seeing Gunn again in a club where she sings, Primavera accepts Arcadie's invitation. Arcadie gives Primavera some food, and then gives her a diary to read.
Through the diary and some explanations, Primavera realizes that Arcadie IS related to her. Her father was also Rafe and Calliope's father; when he was the Doctor, he raped her mother underground, and she was born in filth and lived in the sewer city with the old people until her caretaker died. That was when Rafe and the Ecstasia band came to liberate some old people from Under and ask them to live in the desert. She had followed Rafe out, but then was captured by the sights in Elysia, settling finally with the circus and feeling like she had come home. Of course she found her centaur-lover there, and they would slip away at night, engaging in intimate acts and discussing how they'd both been "saved" by reading and other people's words. When "the man" had taken her lover away, Arcadie had gone to the apartment she'd been left, and had found these diaries explaining to her how she'd been conceived, how her mother had hated her father and called him Death, and why she'd been given up. Then it is revealed that her mother was Lily, the tightrope-walker who had been Rafe's old lover.
Some more reading of the diary reveals Lily's inner feelings about Rafe and her baby, and Primavera begins to realize that Rafe and Paul saved each other's lives with their love, that she does not want to come between that. She decides she wants that kind of love, but not if it disturbs the sacred bond between those two; she'll have to find her own. She begins referring to Arcadie as both her mother and her sister, as well as her friend. The two take care of each other and discuss their relation, their ancestry, and the darkness that came with the blood of the Doctor. One morning Primavera catches Arcadie running through the streets and follows her, finding her and catching up with her at the tunnel to Under. They decide to go in together. Arcadie warns her not to touch the water or she could lose her voice.
Primavera tries to get Arcadie to say why they are going down there--her answer is "for beauty." In a ruined place? Primavera thinks. But then they meet the Calliope-creature, the doll that was created to look like her mother. Of course, this disturbs Primavera; she didn't know such a creature existed. It turns out that the Calliope-creature makes "Aphrodite oil" from a recipe left by the Doctor, and Arcadie likes to use it to keep herself beautiful; she had found out about it when she'd come down to Under for the first time since escaping, trying to find something to kill the pain of losing her lover. Calliope-creature had given her the Aphrodite oil to keep her young forever so that she would always have someone to come visit her; she is lonely even with her mechanical heart. Primavera tells Arcadie that it might not be safe to use it, but Arcadie asserts that she'd rather use it and take a risk than have to come and live Under again when she's old. Primavera offers to be her "hero" and take her back to the desert. She refuses, because as she says, they both "need" Elysia. Arcadie lets Primavera try the oil after putting some on herself, and she describes it as feeling like being kissed. They leave together, but fall asleep on the bank. Primavera awakes to find her mouth caked with blood and her voice gone, and Arcadie is pale and limp next to her, clutching an empty vial of the oil she has emptied onto herself. She lets the old ones take her and hand her a coin for passage across the river, and she leaves the Under, without a song.
The chapter now changes focus to see Calliope searching everywhere for her daughter. She takes the old car and goes to Elysia, asking around and only being confronted by people telling her that her daughter went "Under" and that she should too. Reminiscences of what being young in Elysia and playing with Ecstasia was like pepper Calliope's thoughts as she searches. Finally she goes Under and finds the Calliope-creature modeled on herself, and she says her daughter was there looking for Aphrodite oil. After avoiding a tribe of small mining men called Homunculi (who made a collar for "the man's" bride), Calliope runs to ask her question of the boat-man, ignoring her double's pleas to stay with her. She hears a song that sounds like her daughter, but she is disturbed to find that it is the RIVER that is singing, the river that has stolen her daughter's voice.
Paul has a passage next, and we find out that his scars are from blisters his face suffered as a young man. It's insinuated that it was a reaction to feeling that he was a monster, because he was so beautiful that women panted to be with him, but he loved men and didn't deserve his beauty. So his face attacked itself. The blisters cooled (leaving scarring) when he began to perform his music and was loved for his voice. The reminiscing leads to the present: Paul leaves Rafe and Dionisio to find Calliope and Primavera. (Rafe fears that Paul has grown to love Primavera "that way" and that they won't be lovers anymore when he returns, but Paul knows their relationship will not deteriorate. He just wants his family back.) Back in Elysia, Paul wanders into the loft the band once occupied, reminiscing, only to find that some kids have crudded it up. Said kids return while he is inside, and almost kill him until one of them recognizes him as "Paul Ecstasia." They threaten him to prove that he is "the" Paul by making him sing, which he does, and then one of them, Simon, begins following him around, saying he wants to be just like him. Simon has signs of break-outs on his cheeks. He clues Paul in that Calliope was there a few days ago asking about "the girl who sings flowers." He says that they both went "Under." He finds Calliope slumped at the bank of the river, believing her daughter is dead. He is overcome with hating the Under; he's come here too often (once for the drug to make Rafe love him, once to rescue Rafe from his own drug habit, once to be the hero and bring old ones out, and now for this . . . he is beginning to resent Primavera for causing all this misery). The chapter ends with Calliope lamenting, her mind crowded with visions.
Primavera escapes Elysia on her motorcycle, coming to the outpost where Paul and Dionisio once lived. There she finds caged half-creatures, harpies and faunesses and mermaids. She is nauseated by seeing them caged but being unable to help them, and as she turns to leave she is met by Gunn, who says his motorcycle always returns to this place eventually. He puts a collar on her--we realize that it's the same collar the little men made for "the man's bride"--and she is imprisoned by it, unable to leave. Despite this, she manages to meet River's harpy mother--Electra--and she recognizes the feathers on her necklace as belonging to her son, River, despite the fact that Calliope cannot tell her anything. Electra urges Calliope to go to a secret trapdoor and find the horse-man so they can help each other escape, possibly helping her son in the process.
There is a short chapter told from Electra's point of view, of how she was captured and that the man who'd taken them, Gunn, had tried his luck with human "beauties" and they always scorned him, apparently something was very wrong with them and none of them knew what. So he had begun to collect beast-women. Once in a while he will take a woman--never a "mutant"--into his chambers and she will disappear. Electra hopes for Primavera's escape.
Primavera, demoralized by being forced to engage in sexual acts with Gunn but still hopeful, follows Electra's instructions to the trapdoor, and locates the horse-man, who says to simply call him Horse. Horse touches her throat and later Primavera finds he has healed her voice; she is able to tell Electra her name. She goes back to the trapdoor and thanks Horse for healing her, and he expresses regret that he can't do more, such as killing Gunn for all his crimes, up to and including raping Primavera repeatedly. She has to leave quickly or Gunn might find out she went down there.
A short chapter from Horse's point of view follows; he tells a story of his parents in the circus, and reminisces about Arcadie, and reveals that his real name is Pyre. Primavera and Pyre tell each other their life stories, and Primavera realizes she still cannot sing, only speak. Finally Gunn discovers that Primavera has been coming to see Pyre, and threatens to kill her if she comes again.
Each member of Ecstasia mourns Primavera. Calliope talks of wandering away and being brought back by her fellow band members; Paul says if she returns he will try to understand her even if he won't take her as a lover; Rafe describes building a stone garden in monument to her; Dionisio expresses the wish to be a real father to her. Now we see a scene of Gunn revealing a metal piece between his legs, threatening to use it on Primavera. She flees to Pyre's dungeon and she expresses the wish to sing him a paradise, and they kiss through the bars of his cell. Then Pyre urges her to sing, and she does so, feeling her spirit joined by the Ecstasia band so far away in a garden of stone flowers. The song blows through the wretched place and turns all the cages' bars to a forest, joined by the sound of all the beast-women's cries. Primavera's collar turns to a necklace of flowers. As she rides Pyre away from the prison, the beast-women are freed from their cages. Gunn tries to have some kind of revenge by killing some of the mermaids, but the harpies and faunesses attack him, ripping him apart to find that he has no soul inside.
They have a funeral for the mermaids, and Pyre and Primavera escape with Electra, off to find River. Electra does indeed return with her son, and off they go to the desert. Their family members greet them ecstatically, of course, and then there is a description of Primavera and Pyre's wedding day. Calliope says she can no longer read her daughter's thoughts, because she has let her go on her journey and become something other than just a child. And her father expresses pride instead of sadness at how grown-up she seems now. Paul is finally, in Primavera's eyes, her friend, and she accepts him as Rafe's lover now that she has her own. Primavera expresses her gratitude for all the experiences she had even though they were painful, because they led to her meeting Electra and Pyre, and "the wedding of all of us," the necessary pieces of every set, including Gunn, the Demon. She comes together with her centaur lover and envisions that her mixed-blood daughter will be named after Arcadie, and finally the book ends with Primavera expressing that she is the voice that sings, but the song is all of theirs.