by Grant Morrison Luda is a hugely entertaining drag show of the highest intellectual standard. No, cross that out: it’s a blitzkrieg of ideas wrapped in a celebration of language. Wait, that doesn’t do him justice. Luda is a story about the passage of time and the magic of performance. Ah, I left out supernatural elements and endless play even in the darkest moments. Alright, let’s do this: Luda is a magical, multi-layered and intoxicating story about identity, fame, performance, lust and death that could only have come from the prodigious mind of Grant Morrison.
Luci LaBang is flashy, funny and sexy. A seasoned drag performer who has conquered the screen and the stage, Luci, who is now beginning to worry about the impact of her age on her appearance, lands a starring role in a hit musical. Rehearsals go well, but Luci’s co-star has a mysterious accident and they scramble to find a replacement. After many disappointments, a new face who wasn’t even on the list comes along, steals the show – and part of Luci’s heart and mind – and gets the part. Luda is witty, gorgeous, and charming, which reminds Luci of herself before the ravages of time clouded her inner light. Luda is also a fan of Luci, and she begs the legend to show her the ropes and introduce her to the ways of Glamour, “the original name of magic”, which Luci describes in several ways, including “a method by which we could make up the most boring moment, turning it into its best self.”
Unfortunately, as Luci teaches Luda the magical ways of Glamour, their fellow cast and crew members begin to have strange accidents and encounter untimely deaths, leading Luci to wonder if Luda has mastered Glamor too well and uses it for nefarious purposes. What follows is a bizarre journey that unfolds in the dark and monstrous heart of the town of Gasglow as Luci and Luda’s relationship grows and changes, their fellow actors continue to drop like flies, and Luda transforms into a more bigger, stranger, deadlier and more mysterious. of everything Luci was.
Morrison does a lot of things well in Luda. In fact, discussing them all would turn this review into a short story-length rumination on a plethora of topics. Luckily, some elements emerge as the most crucial due to their power, speed, or flawless execution.
The first of these elements is identity. Morrison shows how fluid gender is while erasing the idea of identity as an established monolithic thing. Luci and Luda are men, women, men playing women and women playing men. This leads to a masterclass in pronoun usage that offers lines like this: “It’s a boy playing a girl playing a boy” and “He had done his research.” Gender, identity, fluidity and constant transformation – for performance purposes and for life in general – collide in Luda beautifully mannered, and Morrison presents it all with heart and unwavering clarity.
The second element here worth discussing is the storytelling itself and the way Morrison puts Gasglow and glamor center stage, which is no easy task in a narrative with two larger-than-life characters. nature at its heart. Gasglow is a magical town that Morrison brings to the page with enough memorable imagery and story to transform it from place to character – and then from just character to unforgettable character. And then there’s Glamour, the magic that beats at the heart of this novel, the “dazzling cloak we’ve thrown over the ordinary world to make it shine and dance and live up to its potential”. Oh, and then there are single lines about little things that come off the page. Take, for example, this description of the dawn: “Not wanting to remain nailed under the tombstone of the clouds, the sun had risen from the tomb like Dracula, ghost sick of himself in a gray shroud on this dawn pale and rainy vampire in late August.”
Finally, there is an underlying obsession with time and aging that pervades the story. Luci is afraid of what time does to us, and its inevitability haunts her:
“Time is delicate. Invisible, never satisfied, time holds us back as it follows us through the undulating elephant grass of our imagined days, our reckoned hours. The fangs of time draw near, still there, camouflaged in the momentary stalks, its steady approach detected first by the older or weaker members of the herd, the outliers who need to remain vigilant to call themselves alive…that no one is listening to anymore…”
Luda talks about a lot of things and shows Morrison at the height of his powers. This book speaks to you, to itself, to being, to fluid identities and everything from HP Lovecraft, makeup and Max Ernst, to Batman comics, aging and Freud. Many books you have read; Luda is a book that you experience.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and teacher living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.