THAT (that) wrote,

2018 Book #45 - unbabbling by reyoung

This is the second book I've read this year by my friend Ray. This one is even denser and more unconventional than Margarito and the Snowman. It's three novellas connected only by theme and style, as far as I can tell. Each one is the tale of a guy with some extraordinary quality that leads to fame or notoriety, but which curdles into violent revulsion, both public and self-directed. They get more outlandish as it goes on; the last one is kind of like a jumble of Greek myths, as retold by Jonathan Swift, who is high on ayahuasca.

The stories are dreamlike, feverish, relentless. I kept thinking he couldn't keep the intensity cranked to 11, but it never lets up. Although there are story arcs, the stories are not totally coherent or at least linear. He'll contradict himself, like, "But wait, it couldn't have happened that way." Things happen, then turn out to have been imaginary.

Sometimes it reminded me of William S Burroughs. Sometimes it reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, the way the only reality that exists in a person's mind is the onrushing flow of thoughts, impressions, the self, weaving a web of stories to shore itself up against the onslaught of the world and the gnawing awareness of death. We tell ourselves these stories in which we are the central figure, but of course it's absurd, because the world is a huge swirling clusterfuck and we are just lawn chairs being whipped around in a gale.

Speaking of wind, I had this dream once. I grew up in El Paso, which is very windy, and I spent a lot of time outdoors, on my bicycle. The wind was a constant presence. You could always hear it, it was always trying to push you over. And in this dream I suddenly noticed that, carried by the wind, I could hear, far off, the sound of children, wailing in fear and pain, like tormented ghosts, except that they were real flesh-and-blood children suffering somewhere. And I knew that I had always been able to hear this sound, but I had somehow trained myself to tune it out. This novel is kind of like that, except that the suffering you can't unhear anymore is right in your face. Blood is getting splashed on you. How can you carry on with your life when this horrible brutality is happening all the time everywhere?

Here's a passage I loved:

"What does it feel like to lie down on the wet pavement in some stinking alley vomiting blood and crumbling ceramic, still too young, too stupid, too ignorant and uninformed to grasp that this is really it, the final and absolute abolition of yourself, of the thing that says I, even now, this very moment you cry out with your last vapors and breath escaping into the cold night ...I...I...I. I what? Did you have something else to say? Isn't it a little late?"

That's just something that one of the characters saw or thought or imagined while wandering the streets. Ray writes to exorcise or express an intensity of feeling and awareness that most of us experience only rarely, because who could live with that all the time?

I'm really not interested in evaluating or critiquing this book as an aesthetic project. To me, it is a howl of pain that requires courage to face. My job as a reader is just to honor it by accepting it, even when it sometimes exhausts me.
Tags: 2018 book reviews
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