Review by Ben Arzate
The Isle of Flowers is covered with cherry blossom trees, the primary resource of its inhabitants. Every winter, or “the Cold” as they call it, freezing lotus flowers bloom, requiring them to burn the trees for warmth. The trees, however, are starting to thin out. What’s worse, sea creatures called “tourists” with the ability to mimic the look of anything often come on to the island to kill the inhabitants and take their place. When Blanko and Margot begin to suspect that Margot’s mother has been replaced by a tourist, it leads them on a quest to learn the truth and find Margot’s real mother.
“The sun came up a cherry blossom and burst its rose gold light into the sky. Its scent was pure and fresh, its petals flickered playfully in the cosmic wind and cast the light dancing down upon the Isle of Flowers.”
If I had to describe Cherry Blossom Eyes in a single sentence, I would say that it reads a lot like what would happen if Richard Brautigan wrote a horror novel. The setting is colorful and fantastic, yet the people who reside in it feel very much like real people. Cartledge creates an atmosphere of paranoia with the story of people being replaced by the tourist sea creatures. The Isle of Flowers is an almost-paradise seemingly ruined by outside malevolent forces.
We quickly see how afraid the residents of the Isle of Flowers are of the tourists. A large part of their society revolves around keeping them off the island and they’re very quick to accuse each other of being tourists when they act off in any way. Cartledge naming the creatures “tourists” is an interesting choice. Most obviously, it’s a reference to the hate and fear of outsiders by the locals of the Isle of Flowers. In regards to their shape-shifting abilities, it makes reference to them being the temporary inhabitants of a form which is not their own. There is also an intense irony in the creatures being called tourists when their true nature is revealed.
The most impressive thing about Cherry Blossom Eyes to me is how it combines its colorful prose with a gripping, page-turning story. I often found myself conflicted between wanting to read slowly to absorb the descriptions of the island and wanting to read through it fast to find out what happens next. The opening drew me in with a beautiful description of the island, its inhabitants, and their rituals—a misleadingly tranquil scene that sets things in motion very well.
I called this a horror novel, but I wouldn’t say that’s entirely accurate. Paranoia is a heavy theme in the book and the transforming tourist monsters come across as horrifying initially, but there is much more going on here. Besides the obvious surrealist setting, there’s a heavy coming-of-age aspect as Blanko reflects on his past growing up on the island and learning things he never knew about before. As with most “bizarro” books, this one does not fit neatly into any one genre.
Cherry Blossom Eyes is a beautifully written, gripping book. S.T Cartledge creates a unique setting and uses it to an excellent effect. This is easily one of the best bizarro books I’ve read recently and I highly recommend it.
To order a copy, visit https://eraserheadpress.com