In Mega-City Redux, Alyse Knorr writes:
Once upon a time, all women loved only
women and this was called the 1970s. There
was hunger, but it was an immortal hunger,
not a hunger for knowledge. Well the police
got involved, then religion, and as you can
imagine everything went to shit pretty fast.
Before it was over I fell in love with a
woman and with six different versions of
myself. None of them survived. But there is
still a place. There is. So when you’re finished
here you can look at this card and go to the
address and trust me you’ll find what you’re
really looking for, all of you.
And the card said MEGA-CITY
(“Dr. N: Let me tell you a story” 4-17)
Mega-City Redux is a heart-breaking, breath-taking story-in-verse that recounts a feminine and feminist odyssey. Knorr calls forth the spirit of Christine de Pizan’s 1405 The Book of the City of Ladies, the first known novel written by a woman. Both de Pizan and Knorr create an account of a city built by, for, and from women: a haven, a place without men, without misogyny, without violence. Mega-City Redux is a journey from the punk clubs of New York City through the heartland of America, searching for this place where
statues of women chiseled by women
using marble quarried by women from a
bottomless vein discovered by women,
street after street of library towers peaking
like multiple orgasms, and a map where every
last alley—every brick and cornerstone, is
(“We all imagine the City differently: an armory” 5-7, 10-12)
Like de Pizan’s characters, Knorr uses “super heroes” to accompany the speaker on her quest to fine “The Anchor,” “the image of a woman.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dana Scully from The X-Files, and Xena the Princess Warrior root the reader firmly in American pop-culture. Knorr’s nod to the classics is “The Chorus,” the collective voice of shame and self-doubt:
The Chorus mans
the counter in every gift shop, handing me
change and whispering she should she
shouldn’t she should she shouldn’t she shouldn’t she
shouldn’t she shouldn’t.
(“With Xena behind the wheel, we stop at” 11-17)
The “Atom Hymns,” an acronym for “All the Times Men Have Made Me Furious,” are the recollected memories of toxic masculinity that each of the characters recount on their road trip. These are speckled throughout the book, stories in the car and in cheap motels, constantly reminding the four travelers and the reader of the inevitable shame of misogyny:
At a frat party. One of them smirks and asks
me if I like it rough—asks me right in front of
the man who loves me. He says nothing . . . .
I wanted violent rescue of my
horror—something primitive, brutal, and
swift. I hated that I wanted that.
(“Atom Hymn” 5-10)
Acting as guidance, almost as a mother, is Dr. Noiseweather (the “cat woman”), a luminous creature, whom we first see as a goddess or saint at a nightclub:
. . . . and three yellow-
jaundiced men surrounding a woman, or a
very large cat, sipping vodka from a
champagne flute. Her star-mangled eyes
scatter the yellow light and we blink out of
dilation and awe . . . .
(“Inside the wallpaper: yellow like we’ve” 4-9)
Dr. Noiseweather’s presence via notes, messages, and interviews emboldens the speaker. She is another traveler, “seeking love,” that reminds the reader that Mega-City Redux is a story, constructed of words, both homely and sacred.
Now haven’t you come farther than you thought you
might? I am proud, not prideful. I am the voice of
justice. You will be, too, if you know what’s good for
you. Send me a postcard when you arrive. Dr. N.
(“At the next gas station: a note stuffed into” 4-7)
The triumph of Mega-City Redux is the seeing and the accounting of a transformation. Knorr expertly weaves the profane with the illuminated, reminding us that Mega-City’s brick and mortar are the witnessing and the tales.
green eyes—it’s the seeing that counts (The
Chorus: how did it come to this? you are just a sad
book about love) . . . .
and just like that end of story
the circle is torn open open open—it’s just
one rigid straight line.
(“And then, four PBRs in, from my seat at the” 8-10,23-25)
Throughout the journey, Knorr’s descriptions litter the landscape like golden relics along the Crusaders’ route. Knorr’s multi-faceted word choices and imagery allow her to weave the most mundane with wonder or menace. Instant soup—that staple of American cocktail party dips—becomes grotesque, a symbol of indifference:
Late in the night Xena and I eat mini-bags of
microwave popcorn and sludgy French
Onion Soup Great for Cooking. Outside, a
five-foot icicle hangs from the motel gutter’s
edge. In other places, women are pinned
down by their wrists, and in various online
comment boxes, men and women present
their opinions on this issue. Grey snow
streaks the windows. We spoon the eely
onion strips around and around in our bowls.
(“Late at night Xena and I eat mini-bags of” 1-10)
In so many of the characters’ vignettes, Knorr is able to encompass the heart of Mega-City Redux: American heroes witnessing, ingesting, and testifying about the violence against women.
The story itself develops as the haven within the walls of the Mega-City—and the city becomes “the mother.”
. . . . Besides, I had my
mother’s mirror . . . . it
was a beautiful hand mirror encrusted with
jewels and when I looked inside of it, I knew
certainty. Everything was fair, and everything
followed reason and rules—even God.
Especially God. I’ve been looking for the
City ever since. You see when she died my
mother left me the mirror and the handle
said Story by story we grow in strength.
(“Dana:” 3, 6-14)
The journey from New York City to Mega City begins by invoking the mother: “If I could find her footprints, I’d follow my mother home” (“Sunnydale is one thing, Buffy, but did you” 9-10). Xena’s gorgeous lament for her mother conflates the “kiss that was never a kiss” with
. . . . a mother bird feeding her baby via
vomit (birdseed too saccharine, too
precious). Listen, of course I loved her. She
was my very close, very best, very special,
special friend. Hand on my belt, swinging
over the chasm. Hand on my belt, my sword,
Mega-City Redux is an American story, with an ancient, female heart. Alyse Knorr responds to a tale written over seven hundred years ago that searches for this place for women:
Once I read a story in a shield, of
women who built cities from dust, who built
altars of love to mark its end. I can still see
the smoke from here.
(“Dana, I turn to you and find you’re” 5-8)
In a landscape of cheap gift shops, vulgar truck drivers, Hair and Rope museums, and dive bars, Knorr’s characters—Buffy, Dana, Xena, and the speaker—drive straight through (“red-rover style”) the voices of The Chorus, the Atom Hymns. When they arrive at their Mega City, they: “. . . . can go to sleep. The world is as safe as it ever will be” (“I Picture your mother—auburn-burnt hair” 8-9).
Knorr, Alyse. Mega-City Redux. Green Mountains Review Books, 2016.