Welcome to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll continue our coverage of Crack’d Pot Trail.
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Crack’d Pot Trail, Part Eight
Flicker starts back in with his story, but when he announce the I’mass woman is no longer a maiden, Tiny interrupts, complaining that Flicker can’t just skip the good stuff. Purse Snippet calls him and his brothers (who chimed in with agreement) “pathetic,” and the three men are stunned a moment until Tiny tells her she better “watch it.” Purse tells them that the “most enticing lure to the imagination is that which suggests without revealing,” making a connection to her own art—dance—where she moves to “seduce… [not] to ruffle your sack.” Tulgord Vise says that just makes her a “tease and worse,” and he demands to know how much destruction she’s left in her wake amongst those who desired her, adding the group made a mistake not having her be part of the competition, as she is “the worst of the lot.” Flickers calls Vise’s attack a “coward’s ambush,” and Vise responds that Flicker better explain himself. Flicker does so, replying that those events Vise mentioned (murders, men turning to drink, the break up of families) were the fault not of Purse but of those men who “crossed the fatal line between audience and performer.” He goes on to explain that art offers the illusion (noting it is just that—illusion) that it is “speaking only to you,” adding that “the instant the observer, in appalling self-delusion, seeks to claim for himself that which in truth belongs to everyone, he has committed the greatest crime, one of selfish arrogance.” Vise backs down, embarrassed. Tiny tells Flicker he still wants to sex details, and when Flicker continues the story with “she was of course unversed in the stanzas of amorous endeavor,” Midge needs a translation. When Flicker explains, Apto asks, “why do you do that anyway?… Complicate things… “make people frown or blink or stumble in confusion, what’s the point?” Flicker argues that simplicity is overrated, saying bluntness is fine at times, but “the value of these instances is found in the surprise they deliver.” He’s interrupted by Tiny who says if the maiden didn’t know anything, then the warrior must have had to teach her, and that’s what he wants to hear.
Flicker agrees to back up a bit and when Mister Must interrupts with a surprising insight, Flicker thinks to himself, “A sharp one here. Be careful now Flicker.” He continues on with some foreplay description and when the warrior lifts the maiden Tiny jumps in with some excited euphemisms (“The Mushroom in the Mulch!”). Flicker offers up some physical details of the loss of virginity and after some banter, Tiny tells Relish she shouldn’t be listening, warning her “Losing maidenhood ain’t like that. It’s all agony and aches… and shouldn’t be undertaken without supervision.” Relish can’t believe he thinks he’s going to watch. When Tiny starts to say it’s their responsibility to supervise, that they promised their father,” Relish scoffs, saying their father never figured out “the connection between babies and what he and Ma did twice a year,” pointing out “Look at us! Even I don’t know how many brothers I got. You were dropping like apples. Everywhere!” When she also starts to scoff at them being “responsible” for her virginity, Flicker carefully interrupts to pick up his story with the night gone by and the “fading memory” of the Imass woman’s innocence. Tulgord Vise says once they lose their innocence “suddenly they can’t get enough of it… That other stuff. Rutting everything in sight… and that boy who loved her since they were mere whelpings, all he can do is look on…and if she turned up all slack faced and drowned down on the bank, well, whose fault was that?” He goes on, finally asking, “what’s the opposite of innocence.” Into the “grim silence,” Flicker offers up, “Guilt?”
That night, Flicker comes across Relish holding a boulder over the head of one of her sleeping brothers. He guesses this is not the first time, and she confirms his guess, saying she’s done it until her arms have trembled. He guesses as well she’s thought of just running away, and she laughs, tossing the boulder aside and saying her brothers would simply hunt her down: “Across the world. Under the seas. To the hoary moon itself…I am a prisoner with no hope of escape. Ever.” He starts to say it only appears that way now, but she tells him to drop the advice, asking instead if he wants to have sex again. He tells her he has dreamt of the last time and will probably will do so until he dies (without telling her it’s more nightmare than dream), and she calls him a liar. He promises to free her from her brothers before the journey ends, and she wonders at his proclivity for making promises to women, telling him that’s a young man’s delusion and adding that one should never promise to save a woman because “when you fail, she will curse your name for all time, and when you happen to succeed, she’ll resent you for just as long.” When she finishes by defining a fool as, “a man who believes love comes of being owed,” he asks if this is true only of men. She admits it isn’t, but says she’s talking about him, not people in general, though she admits she hasn’t quite figured him out yet, accusing him of being “up to something here.” She also impressed at how he’s apparently ensured that he won’t be killed:
You snared me and Brash using the old creep Calap Roud. You hooked Purse Snippet. Now you shamed Tulgord Vise and he needs you alive to prove to you you’re wrong about him… Even him [Tiny], he’s snagged too . .. Just like Steck, he’s riding your words, believing there’s secrets in them. Your magic—that’s what you called it, isn’t it?
Flicker plays the innocent. She thinks the only one who truly wants him “dead and mute,” it’s Mister Must, an insight Flicker thinks to himself is “a cogent observation indeed.” Relish, though, adds that he may as well give it a shot, and if he does manage to free her, he’ll have both her gratitude and resentment forever. He tells her she can do what she wishes with her promised freedom, saying he’ll just look on like a “kindly uncle.” When she wonders if he “uncled” her the other night, he momentarily panics that Tiny might only be feigning sleep, but agrees with Relish when she says if he were awake Flicker would already be dead. They part, and as Flicker walks away he hears Sellup singing out in the night.
Flicker wonders if there is anything “more fraught than family.” His thoughts are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Brash, who demands to know why nobody killed Apto, “who won’t vote for any of us. The worse kind of judge there is.” Flicker informs him that Arpo Relent tried and failed, perhaps causing his own demise in the attempt. Brash has no sympathy, and tells Flicker the two of them could make a run for it this night, speculating that maybe Steck hasn’t returned because Nifty and his fans killed him or they all killed each other. Flicker points out that still leaves the Chanters and Vise though. Brash wants to know if they can eat Arpo if he dies, and Flicker sees no reason why they wouldn’t, agreeing with Brash that maybe that will be enough for everyone. Brash complains how unfair the group is to the artists, exclaiming about how hard writing is and admitting he loses “entire manuscripts between dusk and dawn.” Flicker assures him he does the same, saying, “We are all cursed with ineffable genius.” He wonders though if maybe, “whilst we sleep in this realm another version of us wakens to another world’s dawn, and sets quill to parchment—the genius forever beyond our reach is in fact his own talent, though he knows it not and like you and I, he frets over the lost works of his nightly dreams.” Brash is horrified by the concept: “A thousand other selves, all equally tortured and tormented! Gods below!” But Flicker replies he sees it differently: “the notion leads me to ever greater efforts, for I seek to join all of our voices into one.” Brash responds that Flicker has made him realize that he (Brash) is already a genius, as he’s already “deafened by my own voice.” He asks if Flicker has a knife so he can go make Apto vote for him even if he has to kill him, mocking Flicker’s charge that it would be murder. When Flicker points out Apto can’t vote if he’s dead, Brash says he’ll force the critic to write a proxy vote, then he’ll kill him and they can all eat him. Flicker though doubts Apto would be “palatable,” being a critic, and when he refuses to give Brash a weapon, the other writs stomps off.
Anyone surprised Tiny Chanter wants to dwell on the “good stuff”?
I tend to agree with Purse Snippet’s view toward less is more, or as she puts it: “the most enticing lure to the imagination is that which suggests without revealing.” I’ll often comment in my reviews about an author not trusting an audience as much as they should, or overwriting by spelling things out. I suppose that’s why I gravitate toward the more elliptical works, and also probably why I like the Malazan books so much.
I also enjoyed Flicker’s defense of Purse, pointing out the illusion of art is that it speaks solely to the individual, which does seem to me to be the mark of good art. That sense that the author/artist/etc. somehow knows you, is speaking to you, your fears, your hopes, your experiences.
On the other hand, I’m not exactly sure what the “crime” is he refers to. Is it when a listener/reader/watcher takes upon themselves the role of sole judge of what is being conveyed/expressed? The idea that they are in reality and not in shared illusion the “only” audience?
Apto certainly can stand in for a certain type of audience when he wonders why Flicker has to make things complicated, even if it means people “blink.” And of course, we all know Erikson has been accused of just that—of being “needlessly” confusing. As I said frequently in the reread of the main series though, it always seemed to me that what was charged as “needless confusion” was most often simply a minor request for simple patience from the audience, as often thing eventually came clear. Not always, mind you—I’m not completely forgetting what I read. But I’m fine with being asked to work a bit, with a little dislocation now and then. In fact I often prefer it to not being challenged at all.
We’ve had a few odd little asides about Mister Must, and we get a few more intriguing ones here that Flicker knows or senses something about him that we haven’t been let in on yet, continuing to build on the suspenseful nature of that carriage.
“The Knob-Headed Dhenrabi rising from the Deep.” How can you not laugh? Actually, this whole family Chanter bit is pretty humorous, beginning with this and moving on to Tiny’s announcement that the maiden’s (i.e. his sister’s) first intercourse “shouldn’t be undertaken without supervision,” Relish’s reference to their father’s ignorance and mother’s own lack of innocence, then Relish’s sly “responsible!” and Flicker’s quick “ahem—time to move on” before anyone wonders just what she meant by that.
Then we get Tulgord Vise’s TMI moment, a wonderfully captured bit of losing track of one’s rant. I love picturing the others listening, realizing what he’s saying, and then just staring at him at the end, silently. And what a perfect close to that scene, Flicker’s “Guilt?”—both funny and deadly serious at the same time.
That’s a heck of an image—Relish standing over her brother’s heads contemplating crushing them all, night after night (or if not every night, clearly more than one or two), her arms beginning to wobble before she decides “No.” Or maybe just, “Not tonight. Not this night.”
Flicker is racking up the promises, isn’t he? And darned if you don’t think he can keep him either, though it isn’t clear just how he plans to do that. Though certainly we’ve seen the power of words in this story already, the “magic” in them.
Nice quick little reminders here of some characters we haven’t seen for a little while: Sellup, Nifty, Steck. Very efficiently done.
Erikson, um, Flicker I mean, doesn’t seem to be a big fan of critics, does he?
That’s an interesting concept of Flicker’s, the multi-worlds’ panoply of authors, each a part of a larger voice, particularly appropriate in a book by an author about authors/artists and story.
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.