Snail (2009) -V.Ulea
By Gabriel Ricard
It’s probable that the first thing you’ll notice when picking up V. Ulea’s compact collection of stories, Snail is the artwork. The gorgeous, powerfully arresting and downright surreal drawings can be found throughout. They do not belong to Ulea. Each piece was contributed to the project by renowned artist Irene Frenkel. This isn’t any great mystery. The book clearly indicates Frenkel’s stunning contribution to Ulea’s strange and absorbing prose. It’s just interesting to see the two put together. Although they come from two unique voices you could swear at times that they are from one incredible perspective. It’s almost as though Ulea’s words and Frenkel’s waited through years of life and travel to find each other and create this single, spectacular work. Illustrations are supposed to lend that quality to a written body of work, but it’s rare to see it with the clarity and strength found in Snail. As easy as it is to know that these two beautiful halves could be brilliant on their own, it’s difficult to imagine them apart.
The description on the back of the book gives you only a faint idea of what you’re in for. In the end Ulea’s narrative has to keep you going. You don’t have to worry about a thing. This is the kind of book that can be devoured in one sitting and then read again in the same sitting. There is very little about this work that is passive. It demands your imagination join forces with hers. Ulea describes Snail as a storylette, something that is not quite a basic story but not quite a novelette either. These are seven interconnected stories joined by plot and a particular set of characters. However at the same time they can each be engaged and enjoyed on their own terms. Each story is a small existential masterpiece unto itself. You can theoretically enjoy one story and then put it aside. You can try, anyway.
It goes back again to the demands this book seemingly makes of its readers. You cannot pour through Snail without a mind that is literally ready for anything. A constant, gripping sense of adventure, of multiple universes, ghosts who exist in more places than just walls, all of that runs through these seven stories. To get the most out of them you have to be awake. You should be willing to let your perspective of the world shift and move through the endless designs found in Ulea’s words and Frenkel’s drawings. These seven unified thoughts often feel like an intoxicating, potentially dangerous waking dream. At times you may feel like Ulea is leading you by the arm through something that’s partially real, partially your imagination and mostly hers. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not the whole world of the book either. Ulea and Frenkel might lead you into the first story by the hand. They might pull back the curtain and step aside as Snail completely overwhelms you with its beauty. There’s no question that they are in complete control of the proceedings, but a lot of what you get out of the book is still left up to you. Like any dream or at least something that feels like a dream you have to work out what these stories say to you. That’s an obvious solitary venture, but it’s a good one in cases like this. Anyone who can trust Ulea and Frenkel while also trusting their own artistic sensibilities should have a pretty good time. This is a short book, but it’s going to stay with you. Two or even more reads should be expected.