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Where Does the Kissing End?

In her first book, a collection of exceptionally well-crafted and quietly offcenter short fiction called Tiny Lies (1988), Kate Pullinger, a Canadian living in London since 1982, explored the worlds of marginally employed women learning to tell subtle falsehoods to each other and to themselves in order to survive. This was followed a year later by her politically savvy novel, When the Monster Dies, an examination of the underbelly of a contemporary dysgenic London tourists seldom see, replete with its grime, its squatters, its subversives, and its disenfranchised shoved toward social and economic fringes. Now we have her third book, the haunting short novel Where Does Kissing End?, brought forth by Serpent's Tail, England's premier alternative press, dedicated, as its logo of the ouroboros suggests, to renewal and infinity - along with a political and aesthetic twist of venom.

Sexually precocious, impulsive, sharp, manipulative, delighted by her own gender, the appropriately named Mina Savage works at a London travel agency into which one day walks the nice if naive Stephen Smith. They enter an erratic erotic affair that involves, mostly because of Mina's job, occasional trips to the continent. One night in Spain, Mina disappears from their bed. She returns the next morning, but something in their universe has clearly tilted. Mina begins disappearing more frequently, blacking out and coming to with no sharp memory of where she's been or what she's done while gone. In the meantime, Stephen becomes increasingly anemic.

Although the word vampire never appears in the novel, Where Does Kissing End? hence takes its place beside such films as Reflecting Skin and such books as Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat as a fin-de-millennial vampire narrative. Pullinger uses vampirism as an extended metaphor for the act of love which, for her, is continually in danger of draining independence and individuality from its participants while always almost becoming injury. Stephen understands this: "In a sense lovers are like parasites; they prey upon each other in the worst kind of way.... Monogamy involves a concentration of this feeding process; each partner is responsible for surviving the other's appetite."

I understand that one British publisher who turned down this sexy novel called it pornographic. It isn't. Or, rather, it is, but in the limited sense J. G. Ballard intended when he wrote in the introduction to his novel Crash that "pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other in the most urgent and ruthless way." From this perspective, Where Does Kissing End? is about how people gingerly navigate the shifting geography of desire, jealousy, and the ambivalence inherent in relationships. From a slightly different perspective, it is about not knowing, both in terms of narratology and psychology, as traditional realism is unsteadied by jump cuts, tense shifts, and italicized passages, and characters are haunted by cloudy histories and half-memory. The result is impressive: a tight, clean, sometimes quirkily humorous and often emotionally intense fable for the end of this century.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Olsen, Lance
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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