Eric Beeny’s Lepers and Mannequins is a love story between Quall, a leper, and Jaundice, a mannequin. Both are obsessed with their bodies, for opposite reasons. Quall’s body is all too real – Quall and the rest of the leper’s bodies are falling apart. Jaundice’s body is all too irreal – she desires for it to be a human woman’s body. In each other, Quall and Jaundice see their own body’s potential and the strange beauty the other’s radiates.
But Quall’s and Jaundice’s love isn’t all that easy – there’s a war going on between the lepers and the mannequins. The lepers are after the mannequins, with the intent to salvage body parts for their own ailing bodies, and the mannequins are attempting to migrate to safety. Like Romeo and Juliet, Quall and Jaundice seem to be star-crossed lovers, from entirely different worlds, surrounded by friends and family who do not approve of their love. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, there are secrets in the world, and possibilities, Quall and Jaundice are smart enough to make their reality work.
Beeny comes to Bizarro from poetry – Lepers and Mannequins is structured almost like a chaptered free verse prose poem. As a result, it’s an entertaining quick and smooth read, but not a thoughtless one. Indeed, Beeny addresses deep issues that deserve thought and reflection. Considerations like, “What is our relationship to our bodies and the bodies of others?”, “What is our relationship with our lover’s body?”, “What does it mean to be human?” and “How do we relate to the other?”
Of course, being Bizarro, this book has to be fun. It reminded me of all the awesome, creepy mannequin books, movies and TV shows from the 80s: Secrets of the Shopping Mall, Mannequin, and that awesome episode of The Twilight Zone. Except those stories worked on one level. Lepers and Mannequins punches through mannequin nostalgia, becoming a deeper story. There is this one scene, though…
No, I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll know the mannequin awesomeness when you hit it, though.
CORRECTION: Eric Beeny has published several books of fiction, in addition to poetry, prior to Lepers and Mannequins.
I do plan to watch for more from Eric Beeny, and I advise that you do, as well.