Kali’s Day By Bonny Finberg
An Autonomedia/Unbearable Book, 2014
Bonny Finberg’s Kali’s Day is an odd combination, a melancholy, picaresque spinning prayer wheel of a novel, almost contemporary and nearly timeless. It has echoes both of the druggy sojourns of William S. Burroughs and the Himalayan visits of the early Theosophists and their putative encounters with Koot-Hoomi. We hear chapters from a clutch of inter-related characters, more or less stuck together like Velcro at times despite deep antipathy. It is in some ways an absorbing late-20th-century New York City knock about memoir, and a far ranging spiritual quest undertaken by the terminally dispirited. In other words, it has everything, not stinting the erotic prose that Finberg is somewhat noted for. It faces the challenge, how do you chronicle a descent into madness when you are not all that together to begin with?
As one narrator, Henry, puts it, “I’m heading for parts unknown, or are parts unknown heading for me?” Another, Candice, says “I like to get lost and find my way back.” And later “I try to remember what it was about despair that once seemed so fascinating.”
No one here is merely out for a good time, just as well, and they all seem to have begun their quests from an academic premise: Henry being the Einstein of conspiracy theories as well as a language savant, his daughter Stella a college student trying to survive her eccentric upbringing, and Eastern scholar Candice who emerges as the principal narrator, fiercely intelligent yet oblivious to the chaos she causes. The story moves to various remote parts of the subcontinent and details encounters with a wealth of characters, all up to their navels in some hustle or other, holy or otherwise. The constant motion of this moving cast gives a steady transcendental rhythm to the book as they circle the drain of their destiny and keep the bugs at bay.
As a card-carrying Unbearable, Finberg can be depended upon to make her writing as serious as a heart attack and as unpredictable as a catastrophe while entertaining the discriminating reader handsomely.