"A hen is an egg's way of making another egg."

As I finished up James McClure's "The Artful Egg" (1984)I couldn't help thinking of a conference I recently attended. A woman participating in a seminar became somewhat agitated, almost leaping out of her seat as she inveighed against the persistence of the mind-body or soul-body duality. Finally she let forth an anguished and strident cry: "I am NOT a vessel!" Everyone in the room murmured appreciatively, although whether it was the point or the performance that they enjoyed was unclear.

Later that day, I saw the woman at a reception. She was carrying a tiny baby.

I don't want to overemphasize the importance of this to her stand. I am sure the mind-body duality has always been a source of outrage to her. But this certainly added a meaningful richness to her zeal.

Parenthood, as one might suspect from the novel's opening lines, is no small or carefree endeavor in "The Artful Egg." Children become full of guile and complexity as they age, and are cheerfully resistant to your social deceptions when they are young. To say more would perhaps reveal too much about this double-stranded whodunit, so I will simply summarize the premise: a progressive writer is murdered in apartheid-era South Africa. What was the motive? Her money? Her politics? Her thorny familial relationships? The police (riven with racial strife themselves) compete against each other to solve the crime, while simultaneously delving into the demise of an infamous interrogator's wife in circumstances that suspiciously mirror the "accidental" deaths of political prisoners.

I found myself troubled by the racial politics of the novel (this may be to be expected in any book about apartheid). The plot is explicitly subversive, as paradoxical as that phrase may seem, but the characterizations revel in a physicality of stereotypes that can be quite unsettling. So grotesque are characters of all ethnicities that the body itself, with all its racial codes, becomes a source of extremes, a vessel of disgust.

"The Artful Egg" (1984)
James McClure [who, I am sad to say, died earlier this year at the age of 66]

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