Black Oxen is the story of Carme Risk’s pursuit of her beautiful and not quite human father through two worlds and three changes of identity. In her forties, in the year 2022, Risk has entered narrative therapy. Her memories and her father’s journal take her from the Eden of her earliest childhood to dusty, poor Lequama, a Latin American country, where she and her father become involved with the slightly mad young leaders of a recent revolution and where everyone seems to practice black magic. And, finally, to life in northern California, where Risk, still in thrall to her elusive father, is now the widow of Lequama’s most notorious torturer.
Black Oxen features romantic intrigue, machete murders, battles, and bacchanals. Full of unforgettable characters — from an unusually lucky Taoscal chief, to a sexually ferocious therapist, to a frail billionaire who wants to live forever — it is a deliciously entertaining and beautifully written novel.
Praise for Black Oxen
‘At a moment when we may be tiring of the infinite jestings of postmodern mock-epics, Elizabeth Knox reminds us of their rich satisfactions–call it narrative therapy, a treatment her central character pursues. There is something vivid, even original in the elaborate play of Knox’s intrigue: a Byzantine plotline that delights in upsetting linearity, that indulges asides with confident, elegant bravura; characters who come and go with astonishing alacrity and who move across a shifting timescape as well as a fluid geography; a delightful confidence in language and a mock-serious indulgence of symbols; a narrative line that accepts the inexplicable; and a determination to skewer an inherited genre–the child-quest for the mysterious parent–by centering the labyrinthine plotline on a disturbed woman who seeks professional help in the California of 2022 to puzzle through whether her father was a human or some alien presence. As with most postmodern gestures at narrative, the tangled lines here do not easily give over to straightening. But Black Oxen intrigues rather than tires a reader willing to give into the audacious premise of a novel joyfully able to sustain three narrative worlds: a childhood paradise in late-century Scotland, a fabulous Latin American country undergoing seismic shocks from eccentric revolutionaries, and the California of the narrative present run rampant with ruined celebrities, New Age psychobabblers, and decidedly eccentric millionaires. As crucial (and faux-melodramatic) as the daughter’s search for her haunting father proves to be as it unfolds with the full-throttle energy of the nerviest speculative fictions, what enthrals more is the serious game of history: Knox reveals how language assembles, distorts, even invents cultural recollection and, ultimately, the stuff of hope, and how each of us must struggle against the pull of chance to fashion our story.’ Joseph Dewey, Chicago Journal of Contemporary Fiction
‘A work of great literary power.’ Margaret Stead, TLS
‘Complex without being complicated, Black Oxen possesses a pure and whole-hearted intelligence. As in The Vintner’s Luck, Knox demonstrates an imagination that is both vast and relentless in its pursuit of truth. This is a world with four dimensions and six senses. Any leap of faith it might require is more than worth taking.’
Sarah May, The Guardian
‘Knox’s talents are considerable. Any writer who can step us through the looking glass by having us watch a school of fish is a treasure. With its interleaved and interconnected stories, this process suggests what Knox is doing on a larger scale. If you’re not averse to swimming in these challenging waters, you can join her in her buoyant and otherworldly ascent.’ Robert Onopa, New Zealand Books
‘A fun read for those who enjoy both the unusual and the intelligent.’ Library Journal
‘Readers who share their diligence and patience will be startled to find out where the journey takes them and strangely satisfied at its end.’
Margaria Fichtner, The Miami Herald
‘The book has a huge and ambitious sweep, it’s often brilliantly insightful and descriptive and shows clearly that Knox is a writer who keeps getting better and better.’
Claire Curl, Capital Times