Inconceivable Wilson by J.A. Tyler (Review)
October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
The kind of books that fascinate me tend to be inconceivable, in that if I know how to know what is going on, I kind of don’t want it to go on.
Written in maybe a trend in novella structure in the independent literature market (Amelia Gray’s AM/PM, Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television), Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books), is roughly one hundred pages that function, on the surface, independently of each other, connected only by how a reader chooses to connect them. There is no sentence breaking at the end of a page and picking up again on the next. Each paragraph (if they are paragraphs) gets its own page, and none stretch longer. Some paragraphs push that limit, while others are only a few words surrounded by white. Inconceivable Wilson’s use of this structure is particularly relevant as each page feels like its own framed entity, like a photograph, and how the novella as a whole tells a story feels similar to how a photo album might tell the story of a person’s life.
But the whitespace in Inconceivable Wilson, as well as in AM/PM and others, prompts my inner cynic to question whether we should even be calling these works “novellas” and not books of interconnected poetry or micro fiction collections or something else. Traditionally, when I think of a novella, I think of Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea,” or something that functions narratively and linearly like a common novel or short story. But as literature moves into more experimental territory, that which explores nonlinearity and alternative narrative, these categories must loosen. Calling anything a novella rather than a book of poetry or vice versa prompts the reader to compare this work against previous notions of the category it claims to be a part of, and that affects our reading of the work. It’s category becomes part of the work itself.
My smile is white-toothed in that image, the description of me that is world-wide lingering and gone, the black stumps here, coals and black red blood still coating my ankles, my fingertips.
That’s an excerpt. How was that? Does that make you feel like reading this book? Ought it to? Is that why I’m writing this review? This excerpt appears on a page all its own. It’s literally a snapshot. Description absent context. The entire book is really a study in contextlessness. Having read the book, I don’t know exactly what image “that image” refers to, other than that it is referred to constantly, but there is no narrative context for it. It’s not like the book began: Once upon a time there was a photograph in a room depicting something and this is why the photograph is here etc. Through-out, there is a sense that what is being described has already been given context and now here are some new adjectives for you with regard to it, but there is no context given. Context must be worked for, investigated after, or remain mysterious.
So how (or why) does anyone review a work that is so devoid of context yet succeeds in a way I can’t quite describe without drifting into hyperbolic spirals or sentimental musings on my own fascination with confusion? If I were to attempt something resembling a deconstruction of the content, it gets messy and muddled. Here is a bit that I edited out of this review but am adding back in for its being an example of muddle: Something to do with the manner in which Wilson exists relative to his surroundings. There are times when it feels like he exists as a subject in a photograph taken by a mysterious woman, to the extent that he is aware of it, his being the subject of a photograph (or another similar kind of experience) and what that does to his physicality, to his psyche. But this physical/psychical dimension feels supported by something beyond, something acted upon him by a village of people as mysterious as the mysterious woman. I began to consider the village as simply the background of the photograph, but as the story moves forward, it feels integral to how he arrived at this existence in the first place.
What does any of that mean? Does that give you anything to grab hold of?
Take away a sense of context and books become almost unreviewable. Or perhaps we need to think about changing the way we approach reviewing. All that seems to be left are my own subjective ramblings, or very general concepts, like the sense of movement in the text. Here’s what I wrote about that: As much as like a photo album this story wants to be, there is movement, a going toward something, yet stuck in time, or stuck in a dimension where the meaning of time no longer applies, or stuck in an amalgam of all relative times.
Stuck in an amalgam of all relative times? I think this is a fancy way of ultimately supporting the photo album analogy, not contrasting it, right?
Anyway. In the end, I don’t know, nor want to know what Inconceviable Wilson is about nor what contributes to making it a book I enjoyed reading. Here’s one to end it…
I have walked, went. I go. Standing here, without feet, the stumps of me on their ground, the sacred dark of black, of my moon. Counting my toes and holding them to my face. The bend, the ways I have bent. There are ways. These are ways. I go, have gone. I go. Wilson. On the back of a photograph. Between my shoulder blades. Between me and what was, is not, has been. Go. I go.