Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Awfully Zippy for a Necropolis

From over a week ago: Since splurging on a handful of books at Nicola's, I got (quite easily) sucked into the AAUW book sale and now have a row of books lining one edge of my living room carpet. Oi.

Mooned about Nicola's Books on Saturday afternoon and picked up a number of markdowns and newly-outs. The slim Yellow by Janni Visman was sold to me on the strength of Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith comparisons, plus taut wording on the initial pages. It's a weird, suspenseful psychologically brittle novel.

The epigraph reads:

In my ideal life I am arranged alphabetically.
And I am never infected by nostalgia.

Well written? Yes. Intriguing? Yes. Was I happy to leave it? Yes.

Going by a post on Bookbrowse, the author's experience of writing it was similarly claustrophobic:

"In a desperate rush to finish my first novel, Sex Education, I was confined to my study for over a week. Anxious to avoid any distractions, I got my food shopping delivered via the internet or my husband kindly went out and got supplies. I was beginning to get cabin fever but also experienced a strange resistance to the prospect of going outside and being part of the world again. It was very easy to stay in and have everything brought to me. I began to think about writing a book in which the main character never went outside their home for the duration of the story. That was the initial starting point for Yellow. To this I brought my three other preoccupations of the time."

Last night, a few minutes before sleep I started The Brief History of the Dead.With the novel's empty-coated cover, the would-be reader is primed for mystery and dissonance. So far, I am much happier to be in this narrative world.  The premise touches off from an African belief that there are three states of humanity -- the living, the dead who are still personally remembered by those who loved them; and the ancesteral dead, remembered as a collective, but not through any still extant personal connection. In Kevin Brockmeier's constructed world, the remembered dead live in a City after their "proper" deaths, until their last living ties also die -- and then they disappear into the next unknown realm. But what becomes of the City and its inhabitants when Earth experiences a global epidemic and people begin to die en masse~~~?? A fine set-up, indeed.

Plus, the writing is by turns lyrical and magical -- within the first page the reader is rewarded with the following tale of a character's transition from life into the City:

"Jim Singer, who managed the sandwich shop in the monument district, said that he felt a prickling sensation in his fingers and then stopped breathing. 'It was my heart,' he insisted , thumping firmly on his chest, 'Took me in my own bed.' He had closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he was on a train, the kind that trolleys small children around in circles at amusement parks. The rails were leading him through a thick forest of golden-brown tress, but the trees were actually giraffes, and their long necks were reaching like branches into the sky. A wind rose up and peeled the pots from their backs. The spots floated down around him, swirling and dipping in the wake of the train. It took him a long time to understand that the throbbing noise he heard was not the rattling of the wheels along the tracks."

I don't know, maybe too twee for some, but I prefer the author's venturing into surrealism during those disorienting parts of one's life. And throw in an abandoned three-person mission to Antarctica by Coca-Cola (for potential use of the earth's remaining glacial water, for its blessed products,natch), what's not to love? I only wish the book was larger and would take longer to experience.

The author's name nagged at the back of my head until I remembered that former Borders colleague and woman of highly esteemed literary and artistic tastes, Jeanne, had championed his earlier volume of short stories, Things That Fall from the Sky (um WOW googling calls up an alarming number of entries! Be careful people! Watch the skies!). The (also) slim volume was hiding in one of my bedroom cupboard/bookcase areas (thanks, former homeowner, a much better idea than the screwy electrical wiring projects you carried out ~).

Listen to this, it's wonderful:

"The human voice is an extraordinary thing: an alliance of will and breath that, without even the fastening of hands, can forge for us a home in other people. Air is sent tumbling throught the frame of the mouth, and we find ourselves admitted to some far, unlikely country: this must, I think, be regarded as nothing short of wondrous. the first voice I remember hearing belonged, perhaps, to a stranger or a lost relation, for I can not place it within my family: it sounded like a wooden spool rolling on a wooden floor. My father had a voice like cement revolving in a drum, my mother like the whirring of many small wings. My own, I've been told, resembles the rustling of snow against a windowpane."

What person would have told the narrator this? People rarely speak like that. And in most of our lives, what place does such language have? "Can anyone print from the printer?"

"Your voice is like the rustling of snow against a windowpane."

* {WEIRD.O.} "...Does anyone know how to change the ink? Because it looks like the error message is to do with the cartridge..."

But I'd like that. If it was truly meant, not being precious, but rather being precise and present. I remember a Thanksgiving years ago with the family of an ex, wherein we were asked to write things we were grateful for and toss them into a glass vase. I did so, not thinking about the larger picture. Mine were about details, moments within a day, because to me that's what usually stands out. I.e. today: the work day was a slog-through, stressful and unrewarding. But there were a few encouraging words, I caught a chalk artist in the midst of his design, and my friend told me about her two girls braving up to kindergarten (possibly some tears, it is a long day) and first grade (lift-up desk top! one has a cubby!). So. For me, that evened out. Back at the Thanksgiving, was mortified to find the private messages were to be read aloud, with cloyingly bright commentary: "Ohhhhh, we've got a poet amongst us!!" We slink off and wait for the stuffing. Back to present day, I should go to bed and so should you, most likely. When is sleep NOT a good thing? Check out Brockmeier if you get the chance. I expect to read an impressive three pages before I keel over.

But perhaps! Soon, a luxurious spell of reading for a couple hours. I'll be stuck in Antarctica, or will be much livelier post-death than prior-to...  

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