Anna Joy Springer’s The Vicious Red Relic Love (Jaded Ibis Press) is a hauntingly important contribution to LGBTQ literature that chronicles a time and place in truly innovative ways. Springer’s “fabulist memoir” is glorious, disturbing, and pushes past the limits of style, form, and our own community imagination. Springer uses journals, letters, myth, and doodles from feminist class lectures to create a interlocking puzzle map that guides readers on an intoxicating journey through the dyke community in 90s San Francisco. We are introduced to characters living, dead and imagined who guide us as readers on a journey through heartbreak, disease, and self-discovery.
With literal dark landscape printed onto each page, The Vicious Red Relic Love unfolds a textual forest that invites curious readers to become lost and entangled in the reality of feminism, punk rock, and the early days of the AIDS crisis. The narrator Nina re-enacts her complicated and destructive romance with [Gil], a haunted cult-surviving addict who tests positive for HIV but never discloses her status. Today’s Nina creates Winky, an imagined friend made of tinfoil, innocence and love, which she sends back in time to 90s San Francisco as a companion to [Gil]. Nina’s plan is successful, and Winky becomes [Gil]‘s companion as [Gil] sinks further into addiction, disease, and as she flirts with and finally succumbs to death.
Pieces of the book become messages to Winky, clues and hints on how to infiltrate the dyke community, and to understand [Gil] and her trauma as a cult survivor, and gain her trust. These messages in a bottle flung into the past to guide Winky provide us as readers with our own roadmap to understand not only [Gil] but also Nina herself as she struggles to move into adulthood and make sense of sexuality, feminism, her love and ultimate loss of [Gil].
The Vicious Red Relic Love swallows you into an exquisite world full of heartbreak and longing. It offers clues to where we’ve been and our collective possibility of survival, community and self discovery. Springer describes her prose and visual art combination as the creation of “hybrid texts that combine sacred and profane elements to evoke intensely embodied conceptual-emotional experiences in readers.” Without a doubt The Vicious Red Relic Love does just that. Springer has created a haunting marvel of contemporary queer literature, and one of the best books of 2011.