First of all, as I started this book, and still, I have the flu, but that made sinking into those first few paragraphs so wonderful. I’ve felt so awful the past few days that reading such a lovely writing style filled with such emotional tension was like a warm bath on a cold day with the scent of cinnamon in the air.
So here’s my reading of The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee.
Lee chooses to divide this book into only five chapter, each of which breaks into further parts. At the beginning of each chapter, she includes a little piece which I will call Intro for purposes of easy reference.
A conversation, imagined I suspect, between our main character and her mother over the fact that our heroine is in love with a robot. Her mother’s silences speak pounds of painful.
Reader Comments: Neither the name, description, profession, or anything else about the heroine has been introduced, but already, my heart goes out to her.
Writer Comments: What a way to infuse so much emotion into sixteen short lines. In this, Lee touches immediately on those emotions all of us share: love, nervousness, and the ingrained fear of parental disapproval.
Our heroine, Jane, spends the first two pages describing her mother in painfully intricate detail, but not in a bad way. Her mother had Jane late in life through all sorts of medical procedures and drugs that kept her young enough to bear children and have on easily. Then she took Jane all over the world, and when she tired of that, returned to Chez Stratos, their house in the clouds. Her mother, Demeta, made Jane take molecular restructuring treatments and capsules to ensure she had the idea hair color and body shape, and since Demeta had plenty of opinions, Jane never had to form her own, until now…
Reader Comments: What a horrible mother! Poor Jane has been shaped into an ideal of a daughter and stripped of any of her own identity. Her anguish at this bleeds from every word of these pages.
Writer Comments: The pairing of the intro and this first scene is so beautifully done. The intro lets us know what the new issue is, Jane’s love for the robot, and the first scene builds upon the tension of Jane fearing her mother. Only four pages into the book and the stakes are already high. The writing is rich and powerful through its use of a lovely style, deep, intense emotions, and a narrator that’s very relatable and true.
Also, the use of the names gives great insight into the characters. Demeta clearly references the Demeter myth from Greek mythology, another mother obsessed with controlling her daughter. (Sorry, I always rooted for Hades and Persephone in that one.) And Jane is associated with such a put-together belle of a girl while also being associated with another famous, unusual romance, Tarzan.
Jane introduces her friends, many of which hearken back to classical mythology. Of them, Egyptia, the most emotional and over dramatic of them, calls Jane in a fit of hysterics because she’s afraid that her interview at the Theatra Concordacis won’t go well. She begs Jane to accompany her, and Jane takes a flyer to meet her in the city.
Reader Comments: Jane’s friends typify her mother’s controlling behavior. There are six of them, which her mother deems the perfect number. In a way, she’s very sheltered and exposed only to a precise, controlled version of life. And most of all, the thing I identified with the most was her tendency to fall in love easily.
Writer Comments: Jane’s friends and life are all screwed up in a beautiful way that make them interesting. Never forget the flaws in your hero. At the same time, Jane clearly possesses a sweet, loving spirit, which is, so far, her greatest attribute, her heroic quality.
The flyer is piloted by a new robot this time, one with a head. Intrigued by this, Jane asked about it, it responds with a sales pitch, and she finds the robot too human to risk offending it by saying she’s not interested in everything it has to say or in getting a catalogue. But one curious bit of information the robot gives is that some Sophisticated Formats will be modeled in the city that day. When Jane reaches the Theatra, she encounters Egyptia, dressed up and wearing gold makeup. A man, mistaking her for one of the Sophisticated Formats that he wishes to buy, gets into a verbal altercation with Jane, who tries to defend her friend. Egyptia screams and storms up the Grand Stairway to her interview. Jane follows some time later and encounters S.I.L.V.E.R. S.I.L.V.E.R. is so beautiful and has such a wonderful voice. Jane just watches him and cries, but she can’t understand why she weeps. When S.I.L.V.E.R. at last notices her, she’s struck by his perfect movements, so human. He at first tries to comfort her, but she calls him horrible and how dare he speak to her. S.I.L.V.E.R. turns on his heel and walks away.
Reader Comments: Egyptia both makes me laugh and feel bad for her. She fits the overdrama well from her behavior to her appearance. And although, she and Jane’s interaction board the melodramatic, the constant reminders of Jane’s controlling mother keep the scene from going too far.
Regarding S.I.L.V.E.R., I liked the careful blend of human and robot. His physical reaction were human, but his words were to perfect and precise. It made an interesting contrast, and thank goodness, Jane didn’t melt in love and throw herself in his arms like part of me feared she would.
Writer Comments: As I alluded to in my reader comments, the interaction between Jane and Egyptia, even Jane’s crying over Silver, snuggle up to the melodramatic. However, because Lee incorporates other, subtler conflicts that are far from melodramatic, the use of the mother-daughter conflict, the conflict of self within Jane, and the conflict between the human world and the robot world, these scene fall short of the melodramatic and into the realm of intriguing.
Jane goes straight to another of her six friend’s, Clovis’s, apartment. When the door finally lets her in, she comes upon Clovis with one of his lovers, Austin. Clovis is holding a séance to get rid of Austin. Clovis demands Jane sit down and participate, which she does while crying. In the midst of the séance, a chipped cup spells out a warning message to Austin that remaining there is unwise, a gimmick one of their friends put together with magnets and mechanics for the purpose of Clovis disposing of his boyfriends. Austin freaks out and storms away. Clovis offer distant and somewhat cold comfort to Jane and theorizes what interesting, sexual purposes these Sophisticated Formats might be capable of. Then he sends her home with an odd touch of insightful, but distant, tenderness. Jane returns to Chez Stratos, hoping to find her mother and pour her heart out and ask her advice. When her mother finally appears dressed up to go out, she insists that Jane must wait until tomorrow. She can record what she wants to say, and her mother will listen to the tape tomorrow and they can talk then. And she suggests Jane really ought to go out and enjoy herself rather than doing something so negative as to go to bed.
Reader Comments: Wow, what a twisted set of circumstance and world, and for this, it’s all the more fascinating. Clovis is a brutal egocentricist but oddly kind to Jane in a distant way. Jane’s mother is far too concerned about the perfection of life too be suitable as a mother, and yet Jane tragically loves her. Jane, poor Jane. I do hope she comes to terms with herself.
Writer Comments: In these sections, Lee shows time and again how isolated Jane feels and really is. She fits in nowhere. She’s constantly reaching for something but never managing to attain it. Colors, sounds, tastes, scents all fill her world, yet a profound and deep loneliness covers it too. In this, Lee uses her interactions with other characters and the setting to mirror and highlight her inner world.
Thanks for reading these first few sections. Next Monday, we’ll go over more of The Silver Metal Lover.