posted Saturday 18 December 2010 @ 6:30 pm PST
In its brocade heart, Jon Armstrong’s Yarn is an archetypical tale of a boy who takes on a quest and becomes a man. It’s like Star Wars – but with yards and yards of fabric rather than warp drives and droids. But the central story remains the same.
Yarn’s hero is Tane Cedar, whose tale begins in the corn slubs, where men labor endlessly and cheaply in service of growing more corn for their overlord. The men don’t mind, given that their very clothes contain drugs to keep them compliant and their brains have been thoroughly washed. Tane is, of course, different. He finds himself in Seattlehama, the big city, where fashion and its creators are epically worshiped.
Tane has a series of adventures, each stranger than the last. Vada, a performer in an ‘‘entervator,’’ which are theaters/elevators that travel through the city’s towers, eventually takes him on as her costumer and lover. There are other plots afoot, however, and Tane has to find his inner steel in order to fully evolve.
What makes Yarn rise above its familiar plot are all of the accessories that Armstrong has woven into his richly imagined world. He never breaks from his fully detailed vision of how his Seattlehama and its environs would sound and smell and look. It’s immersive and by turns alienating and wonderful. Like this description of ‘‘fashioning,’’ Armstrong’s future slang for a public sex act:
‘‘The interlocked closeness,’’ continues Kira, her voice tender and hungry. ‘‘Knits rubbing against wovens. The tightness of the stitch. The slight pilling across the friction of out longing. The stretched and then torn yarns of desire.’’
It’s passages like this one – where you hold your breath and wonder if Armstrong will be able to successfully push this conceit even further – that make Yarn a fun read. While it doesn’t work on every level and runs out of steam toward the story’s end, Armstrong’s muscular vision keeps you turning the pages.