‘Palimpsest’ by Catherynne M. Valente
Palimpsest limns a city that is literally written on the body – a sexually transmitted geography, whose map appears in fragments on the skin of ordinary humans after they sleep with someone already infected.
While the city’s full time inhabitants are born, live and die there, these temporary migrants can only spend the night in Palimpsest. They wake back in the “real” world come morning, where they hunt for others of their kind and try to keep the secret from everyone else. Ordinary criteria for sexual selection such as physical attraction, compatible personalities, romantic relationship, even sexual orientation fall by the wayside for most, compared to the pursuit of new territory and the elusive, perhaps mythical, way to stay forever.
Fans of Valente’s Orphan’s Tales books will recognize the seductive strangeness which she describes so lyrically, though wonders so thickly piled may become somewhat fatigued in the end.
Within this city we follow Sei, lover of trains; November, keeper of bees; Oleg, locksmith and brother to a drowned ghost; and Ludovico, bookbinder and husband of Lucia. Their seemingly separate quests for love, lost or never possessed, quixotic or practical, eventually entwine with each other and the history of war-torn Palimpsest and its disquieting, silenced chimeras.
Though Palimpsest contains both sex and love between many different combinations of genders, (and sometimes even between the same two people), those looking for romance should be prepared: the city becomes the ultimate love object, surpassing any merely human relationship.