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It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with the protagonist of Chavisa Woods’ first novel, The Albino Album. She may be a strange-talking runaway who fed her mother to an albino tiger, her name may be so complicated that no one ever actually utters it throughout the entire book, she may smell bad and blow up buildings, but damn she’s fabulous. Because her name is unpronounceable, everyone calls her Mya—a nickname bestowed by her first girlfriend, a possessive Russian truck driver with money to spend—and Mya is a force to be reckoned with: a ballsy, no-nonsense, straight-talker with a huge, if rough, heart.
There are many layers to The Albino Album. Mya is the central character, but the narrative sweeps out to encompass her family, her family’s friends, her lovers and her lover’s lovers, her housemates and her teachers. There are so many stories interwoven in these pages, stories of love and lust and loss, stories of cultural pillage and dispossession and hidden sexuality. Mya’s family is Middle American poor working class—called “trash” by a jilted lover, who later regrets the word—Mya’s lovers include an ex-suburban Indian woman and an intersex Malian adopted by a well-to-do New Orleans couple, and each of their stories is told with a careful and generous eye. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say The Albino Album is, at its core, a novel of the human condition. It’s a political novel. It’s a love story and a coming-of-age story. It’s the story of a girl who rides an albino horse and has no patience for the niceties of cultural conditioning. Suffice to say, it’s multifaceted, in the best possible way.
The Albino Album has a distinguishing feature: it is divided into two sections, Side One and Side Two, and the chapters are presented as Tracks, as in, the songs on a cassette tape. If a lover gave you this mix tape as a gift, you’d swoon. It’s got Lou Reed, Ani DiFranco, Bessie Smith, Bob Dylan, Sting and David Bowie and more. And like a good mix tape, the chapters of The Albino Album function individually, but mean all the more as a whole. The chapters switch perspective and point of view, but always move forward with an eye toward connection. Mya, who has a mind for puzzles, says this to Gabriel, a teenage runaway who she forms a bond with late in the novel: “Domino effects is how things go together to make each other possible. Everything’s connected in a certain way see, but when you change the position of one thing, you change what’s possible for another thing… You can use energy too to make things happen, shape everything, un-shape things, even. Electricity, chemicals, you re-shape them, they re-shape other things. Hell, you could make an old mousetrap and rearrange a rat…” And that’s an accurate description of how the world of The Albino Album works: endlessly being remade by the actions of Mya and those she knows, in an endless rippling resonance.
The Albino Album is not easily summed up, even with a number of adjectives. It is epic, it’s sprawling, it’s laugh-out-loud, utterly brilliant, infused with philosophy and characters that practically leap off the page, it’s sexy and off-kilter. It’s a new vision of America. Seriously. This book will grab you by the throat and not let up for 550 pages and when you’re finished you’ll wish you were back in its jaws.
The Albino Album
By Chavisa Woods
Seven Stories Press
Paperback, 9781609804763, 560pp.