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marcus continued

“When I thought of Esther alone in the house, without us, I pictured her being waited on by … us. Facsimiles of us. Robot usses. Father and mother us, hovering over Esther with bowls of berries, with the special dinner of steamed greens, the de-meated slab of protein and sauteed bread she liked. Her own baby bowl of salt, hooked onto her dinner plate like a sidecar. I couldn’t see her, Esther didn’t exist, without a satellite of us orbiting by, although I’m sure Esther had no problem imagining her solitude.”

And here’s a hint at what Marcus does — with the de-meated slab of protein and sauteed bread, with the weirdness of the image of the sidecar of salt. The things he describes are a little bit off (or a lot off, as with the odd mode of Jewish worship he describes, hiding in a hut in a forest listening to clandestine radio transmissions with a two-part receiver rig), but only in the manner of a near-future dystopia or a wet science fiction story, mild little unsettling differences from a mostly-recognizable setting. But the diction — the diction continues to get uglier, more viscerally awful, as the book goes on, the ugliness and hopelessness of Marcus’s world coded into the words he uses. In this, The Flame Alphabet resembles something like Blake Butler’s There Is No Year, which I thoroughly disliked. But The Flame Alphabet succeeds in a way that No Year doesn’t (still unlikeable, but because of a visceral recoil from the language, a calculated effect) because the diction is a vehicle for and an emblem of the plot, and the layered metaphors built up like sediment over top of that plot.



January 18, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

butler continued

“David Foster Wallace. (43)
(43) David Foster Wallace died with a massive and uncompleted manuscript found bathed under light in his garage.”


This is the conclusion of a list, 43 people long, found by the son, each its own photo, inside of a box nested in a box nested — well, you get the idea. It’s a listicle, more or less. It’s pastiche Wallace, kind of, with the footnotes riding the text. Sharon Tate herself is number two. It’s not quite Jim Carroll. It’s a stack of cultural signifiers. It’s the kind of thing that tempts a reviewer or a critic to try to find some connection with Wallace, because his is the shadow that looms largest over experimental literature, or at least over the left-of-center novel, but I’m pretty sure that that’s a McGuffin, because the in-joke minimalism of this book is almost the full-turn opposite of Wallace’s expansiveness.



April 12, 2011, 6:31am   Comments

butler continued

“1._________________(197136 plays). This song’s title appeared in the son’s iTunes browser as a trail of mangled digits or a blur. The son could not view the details of the track. When the son tried to click the track to play it, iTunes would crash and often so would the computer. He did not know how the song had gotten onto his machine. Sometimes the son was able to mouse over the title when rolling in from certain angles and the album art would appear in the bottom corner of the iTunes browser. The album’s artwork appeared to be the face of a man obscured by several kinds of light, though the son could never see the image long enough to be certain of the features, or the flesh. the song’s play count rose week after week, despite the son never hearing, and continued when the son turned the computer asleep or off. In this way the song covered the son’s whole life, up to a point. Sometimes unplugged, the computer’s encasement would discolor or spin or flake or walk. The son could not bring himself to delete this song.”

This is a full chapter. This is a full chapter entitled ‘The most frequently played song on the son’s computer before the son erased the contents of the hard drive and burned it and buried the computer in the woods.’ This may be the best chapter in There Is No Year. It has the eerieness of something like House of Leaves, in miniature, if that book didn’t succeed in large part because of the accretion of eerieness. But Butler doesn’t build on this — that’s not how There Is No Year works — and instead flits off to another vignette, equally striking; it’s almost as if you can see him lose interest in the specificity of the image toward the end, with the computer’s carcass flaking and walking, straining at credulity in the purity of its imagery.



April 11, 2011, 7:49am   Comments

butler continued

Live audiences frighten me to death. Sharon Tate.”

An epigraph, and I’m pretty sure an intentionally tasteless joke, based on the shared knowledge that the thing Sharon Tate is famous for is dying at the hands of the Manson Family (followed by having been married to Roman Polanski; followed by her acting career in the movies).



April 10, 2011, 8:18am   Comments

blake butler, there is no year

“Usually the cable’s crap connection delivered all the channels with a rind of fuzz. The screen would sometimes spurt and bubble with long rips of swish, often in the most important moments of a program, or at least the moments the person watching would most like to see. The cable company had sent several repairmen with no success. Several of the men had fallen off the roof, cracked bones or bruises. One of the men had lost his thumb.”

Not quite a random paragraph, but close enough to serve as a core sample. Most everything is here: the banality of the situation and the problem in poor cable reception; the swooping diction and exuberant images (spurt and bubble with long rips of swish, which only makes sense in an onomatopoeic or imagistic way); the sense of decay (rind of fuzz); the breakdown of grammar (cracked bones or bruises); the touch of macabre in the lost thumb.

Harper Perennial 04.05.11



April 09, 2011, 7:57am   Comments