About Joseph McElroy: He is the author of nine novels, including A Smuggler’s Bible (Harcourt), Hind’s Kidnap (Harper & Row), Ancient History: A Paraphase (Knopf), Lookout Cartridge (Knopf), Plus (Knopf), Women and Men (Knopf), The Letter Left to Me (Knopf), Actress in the House (Overlook), and Cannonball (Dzanc, 2013). He received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and D.H. Lawrence Foundations, twice from Ingram Merrill and twice from the National Endowment for the Arts. Among other universities, he has taught at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, University of New Hampshire, Temple, NYU, the University of Paris, and the City University of New York. McElroy was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1930. He was educated at Williams College and Columbia University. His website is here.
I interviewed Joseph McElroy here.
“For hear us falling. Toward the horizon albeit oblique, for we imagine it isn’t our natural state. We are some power to be here and to have changed toward life even to think distinct from these angels lately to be heard speculating in us as if they were learning to hope. We deserve to know what is in us.”
We read—the plural for the few as well as for the potential, the connected for the ostensibly disconnected—we read Women and Men, by we we mean you, by you we mean I, us, read it…. The we is not lost on us though perhaps it is lost on literature, for how many novels make use of this inclusive if not presumptive multitude? We, The Drowned is but one in which we the readers drown in a sea of stories with Danish sailors and their families, but Women and Men, this “loose-strung grand opus,” is not as clear-cut as that. “‘We’? we ask.” Oui oui.
“…dispersed along our respiration’s warp that gets us together and expels us, flows us and stammers us….”
First (read first impressions), a note on the title: Women and Men is a dialectical echo of War and Peace, it’s also more than opposite, even more than counterparts, but one part having been womb-sundered into two, the monotony of paradoxical dichotomies. The old adage of biology is that nature is female by default but the truth is that nature is sexless, androgynous at best, sex and gender having evolved as something like an anomaly (read anonymous), and thus the inversion of the usual phrase “men and women” to emphasize the feminine is potentially misleading (read Miss not leading).
“He tells her that clouds heal the air.”
We hear questions as we ask them, are asked them as we hear them: “…the Great American Question Who was here first?….” Which came first, the knowledge or the knowing? Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the atom or the absence? Which came first, the last or the blast? Yes, the blast is first, the blast of a birth in one of the strongest openers we’ve read in a novel. If anything, answers come before questions until questions look like answers. The big bang of the book’s structure—“An as yet unfixed emptiness simply asking power to rush in.”—that gives us a wealth of voices in lieu (read lute) of characters, although we meet many people on this mobius street in New York and elsewhere overwhere underwear. The latter association evokes humor and wordplay (“as American as ampule pie” or “infraredneck”), both aspects you’ll find in this construct of Women and Men (hereby circumcised to W&M). But what quantity and consistency of humor? We were told via an Imp Plus email in the voice of an angel named Joe McElroy that “in fact W&M is quite a humorous book.” We as in I read the “anthro-historico-botanico-technlogico-linguistico” tome searching for this humor and although instances were found, including a supply of what one might call ‘dad jokes,’ our assessment is that W&M’s humor, aside from some conceivable moments of mirth, would probably be lost on readers of the most current angel generation (“…those guys who do the interrogating have a sense of humor to begin with but on another wavelength…”), and perhaps other recent angel generations, as in the one that contains the angelized David Foster Wallace who curtly wrote when asked about W&M that it “sucks canal water,” this in a fairly casual promotional chat forum between DFW and readers interested in the author of the newly-published Infinite Jest. One is more likely to find infinite thought or infinite meditation in W&M than anything approaching jest but DFW may have been wrongly but rightly attuned to the angel Joe’s obsession with water, whose upcoming Water Book will be sure to suck from canals, aqueducts, rivers, estuaries, and more (read ocean floor). When the angel George Salis asked the angel Steven Moore about this DFW put-down, he said, “Women and Men is rather humorless and overly convoluted, which is why Dave probably didn’t like it, but McElroy is obviously a very smart and innovative writer and shouldn’t be insulted like that.” Largely humorless perhaps, but not completely, for instance: “…put it ass-backwards (though isn’t that where the ass was, the last time we didn’t look?),” “…horse-drawn (in Windrow, horses could draw, you see)…,” and also a brief but welcome bit about a man so obsessed with the safety of the contents of his trashcans that he has them linked to a “medium-voltage line especially dangerous in a drizzle to jolt and stagger Dobermans, frowning shepherds, bassets minding own business, cold-cock your Afghan, explode your spaniel, straighten out a white chow’s tail, recharge your Saint Bernard….”
“…as we pass a woman combing her hair, a random submarine conning a beach, a dark man traversing a whole continent….”
The interrogator with electrified fingers between the ribs is asking us not what isn’t in the novel but what is, not what is in the novel but what is around it over it through it…it. In a word, Weather. Weather and Men more than women, for the focus is on protagonist Jim while Grace, in a colorful chapter which is the closest Joe comes to anything approaching satire, is given her time although not necessarily her due, but perhaps it’s true that she is mother Goddess and like every good (read bad) deity is absent except for brief appearances and her influence on women who womanifest later. While we yearn to hear more from Grace, she did grace us with her presence and left her impression either way, yes, Grace is one of the strongest characters for being the most lively and spirited, at the forefront of women’s liberation, even if she falls into some New Age woo-woo flimflam mumbo jumbo, “But what found her now as she came down let down by the sky into love waves of the mirrored room must be more than this meaning of her day that had seemed so clear during the grip and spit-flo-here-I-am of cum fed back to cosmos.” This is not angry satire or mockery as some wayward angels might believe, but a fairly realistic character who at least partly can be found in the counterpart of Gwyneth Paltrow, a woman who thinks douching with coffee is a habit of health, and in fuller fact, Grace is based on the real-life Betty Dodson who encouraged group masturbation among women along with other unconventional (read un-cunt-vaginal) practices. Early on, we wonder if Jim and Grace will meet, but then we pick up on this signal in the text: “And should they never meet, we have been invited not less: like we are the news either way—meeting or not meeting—as we are the relations between them. And have we not felt we are more?” This suggesting a kind of quantum entanglement, part of the Colloidal Unconscious that connects every being (read bean) in the book whether directly or indirectly, yes, “this Grace Kimball person and he were some same person perhaps in life right now….”
“…eyes like sound that opens all the other sounds and sheds them to music….”
First is the blast but ostensibly not the last, and after the baby takes its first gasp in the first chapter, so must we to enter the first of the BREATHER chapters, written in a style that is akin to stream of consciousness(es) but unlike any in literature, giving one the initial sense that W&M is moving the form forward, in addition to all other directions, including those in higher dimensions. As we breathe with the BREATHERs, so we asphyxiate in their outer-inner space, particularly as they expand less like lungs than inverted bombs, or both, dominating the second half of the novel (“…at curtain call he’s breathless, swelling his sternum like a victim of slow vacuum torture.”), but more on this later. Why breathers?, we ask even though questions “are more lasting and alive than answers.” Breath is one of the main elements of the book, exhalation and inhalation, in and out, grip and release, breath being akin to spirit and life force, élan vital, that which makes up the angels. And as in metempsychosis, or met him pike hoses, as Joyce’s Molly would say, the baby of the book’s beginning “was beyond boy or girl, beyond not before,” in other words, ageless (and in general don’t babies often like look like wrinkled sages with secrets?), this being compounded by more intimations of an angelic and atemporal nature, “The baby inside her, had it been speaking all the time? Why her? Why not anyone? Why not him? But more her than him. For she and the baby had both been inside her and might have come to an old understanding.”
“…their sympathy with another human being or beings as close as what our own recent formulae infer to be Simultaneous Resurrection.”
“Breath breath breath breath breath,” an invocation. Menial philosophers and desperate theologians like to say, “So we’re just a pile of atoms?” This vapid truth should be coupled with the other, that speech is ‘just’ the modulation of breath, of air, neither fact making it less inspirational, and there’s that word again, from the Latin, spirare, spirit, to breathe: “…she remembered what she could remember, as if she might have receded into her own breathing, and part of her was never to be seen again…” Perhaps not with human eyes, but the next chapter, like all the BREATHER chapters, gives us a glimpse into another realm that surely contains that part of Jim’s mother if not more.
“Isn’t that a large shadow on the road running parallel to us or our dream?”
Among this real imagining, we will also discover how pronouns are pronounced and denounced (I he you she), perspectives are spectacled and spliced, scientific concepts are yolked and/or scrambled among frequently Freudian word association (“…an undeliverable message (read literally massage)…”), time is more fluid and feedbacked than slime, “leaning like a long-necked proto-pelvic closet-biped ankylo-soaroatops into its brained past,” and present and future too: “Meanwhile, decades later…,” “…once upon a biggish bang…,” “…in an instant of another time…,” “…the past is also evolving…,” “…light years ago…,” “…a few short years passed in the night…,” “…years ago (read years later)…,” and near-infinite others.
If one has not experienced a BREATHER, the only way is to read them, for it is angel Joe finding his voice not in spite of a plethora of other voices but because of them, inspired. The closest approximation on our Geiger counter is the analogy of a Don DeLillo squared, cubed, hypercubed. We call on Copernicus who can explain how, in these unique chapters, concepts and narrative tidbits orbit each other in a literary solar system, a gilgameshwork galaxy, accreting material from the deep space between words sentences paragraphs chapters to become bigger and brighter, each with their own orbital shape and speed, contexture, therefore, like Halley’s Comet, you could see it flash across the sky (we, the Greeks, thought it hair) and only see it again in a slightly larger form 75 years (read pages) later, or 7.5 or 0.75. The interrogator claps our ears with bronze palms and asks what concepts, what tidbits, and so we tell the interro-torturer (a not-fully-if-at-all-human entity eventually “christened Gatorix”) to look in the mirror (read sphere), for this is where interrogation and torture are first mentioned. We hear some attempting to be cute in their quick conclusions, claiming the reader is receiving this maltreatment, but could just as well be the angel Joe, laboring for almost 10 years on America’s longest novel (1,200 pages in the highly-sought Knopf first edition hardcover, 1,300 in the Dzanc paperback reprint). Other concepts, other tidbits, an opera singer named Luisa who has swallowed an illicitly-prescribed tapeworm for a weight loss hack, even as the tapeworm is a wormhole (“…into time’s momentary tunnel…”). Luisa’s father is a political prisoner in Chile and later she beds a Chilean diplomat who is in her eyes an embodiment, a scapegoat for the tyrannical government that may or may not have killed him in the wake of the Allende coup. Other tidbits, other concepts, the myths (read truths) of the protagonist Jim’s influential and independent grandmother Margaret who defied her newspaper-owning father and embarked on something of a pilgrimage across the west for several months. Concepts-tidbits, the truths (read myths) of the grandmother Margaret who impressed and depressed and suppressed and uncompressed and expressed the mind of young Jim with closely-linked Navajo tall tales featuring the Eastern Princess of Choor who is being courted and chased by a prince (the angel author’s middle name) in the presence of a hermit and healer; at first it’s an invisible seed, this grand grandma narrative, but then it grows into an axis mundi either destroying or upholding the earth if not both. Tidbits-concepts, particulate and atomized bits and tids from other sections in the novel that are and aren’t considered BREATHERs: math homework, a moving Wide Load, and of course the chorus of the angels themselves, the We we are speaking of and are who are speaking to you, which is us. Angels who wax Homeric in nature but only partly, for they are also satellites of a kind, a surplus of Imp Pluses in a quantum soup of sentience, able to cross-communicate (read cross-contaminate), “…tickle used brain cells so the brain can dream they’re growing friendly through the skull and dura mater to touch the void.” In “‘Continually Re-enchanting the World:’ Virtually Joseph McElroy”, the angel critic Mark Troy explains that in the decade-preceding novel Plus “the mind is not a blank slate: beyond the segment of the brain registering and transmitting, there is a shadowy recessive area, which retains traces of memories—memories of people and events, memories and feelings.” This angel scholar also suggests that Plus could be read as the burgeoning consciousness of a W&M angel. Might we further envision portions of Plus as the linguistic representation of a fetal brain in development and ultimately birth, albeit posthuman, fused with the notion of an amalgamating soul? While one or more of us do not believe in souls or the like, the angel author Vanessa Place told us in an interview about her aesthetic something applicable: “The idea of divinity, its real imagining, is much more interesting than the divine, its imagined reality.”
“…breath cutting life into words, a sentence into meanings.”
Ah yes, within the BREATHERs, particularly the early burgeoning ones, we encounter some of the most amazing sentences in all of literature, not just for their length but for their temporal interconnectivity, their preternatural sequential structures pushing against a dimension ever higher—transcendence (read transentences). We found but one example beginning near the bottom of the Dzanc edition’s page 348 and ending near the bottom of page 350.
“His daughters and his son will live many nights and days with their father’s death, countless moons burning through the sky of their sleeping eyelids.”
In the “Choor Monster of the Long White Mountain” chapter, Jim attends a Kennedy space launch and hooks up with a younger girl named Barbara. The launch ends up being delayed, much like the one the angel Joe attended and later wrote about in his retrospective essay “Neural Neighborhoods”: “Understand me: the night launch of Apollo 17 made me want to believe in God, made my dazzled eyes and chest imagine grand collaborations in our universe.” A feeling that Jim doesn’t quite receive or is immune to, which amounts to the same (read say um). Joe continues, “But if the delay made one look at that white rocket repressurizing out there on the pad lit up by a crisscross of xenon searchlights like waterstreams, it also disappointed one’s theatrical expectations and could make one think about facts. This was what the astronauts were thinking about, and the people at the Launch Control computers, and the people servicing the rocket. The machines and how they work. The forces they enlist and the forces the machines counteract and defend against,” this being closer to some of Jim’s thoughts.
“…to wit that the mother ape (read baboon), while readily losing interest in a babe of hers if it die, loves and tends ye a live one for all the world by instinct not to remember the pain of childbirth as soon as it’s over yet as if that pain through some semen of amnesia remembers to beget mother love like an opposite of the pain, and so the Earth grows more rational.”
As is emphasized in this chapter and elsewhere, Jim doesn’t dream, not not remembers his dreams, he claims, but does not dream period: “…mustn’t he have had something to put in place of dreaming?…” Well, we know that a lack of REM results in hallucinations and objectively Jim is the most schizophrenic-sounding soul. True to notions of dreams and nightmares, this is where we learn first about the lunar economy, which disturbs Jim, this vision of people stepping upon the Four Corners Monument two by two and fusing into a single being who will live on a torus-shaped libration settlement between the earth and moon, more specifically “the territory near the magnetopause on the earth side….” Beginning with the title of the first chapter “division of labor unknown”, there’s a preoccupation in general with notions of economy, from the economy of electrons to the economy of family units, even the economy of a potentially untapped multiverse. Although partly if not mostly redundant, a later chapter titled “OPENING IN THE VOID (smile)” explains how a prison is but one example of an economy in microcosm, and it gives more details concerning the Colloidal Unconscious, the entirety of the chapter itself being a 100+-page semi-psychic letter from an inmate named Foley.
“We have to learn all over again. And isn’t this hard when we ourselves are always at the beginning of ourselves?”
The chapter “Ship Rock” (read “shipwreck”) is centered on the eponymous monadnock of New Mexico, almost 1,600 feet tall (read fetal mountain). “She understands he’s looking at the Rock. But it doesn’t look like a ship. But it brought him here. And it will get him home.” The rock that is a ship, the ship that is a rock, the nexus of a meditation on time, myth, science, spirituality, colonialism, and more. In fact, it’s one of the best examples of Joe’s “planetary realism,” as the critic angel Tom LeClair labeled it in his Washington Post review of W&M. Here is, we think, a passage (read passageway) that encapsulates the category: “An authoritative drawing of vast layers of sedimentary terrain. Layers like colored sand. Erosion centuries deep turned into height in the cutaway segment, so the former plateau lies like a dammed sea hundreds of feet above the floor he’s standing on and, dwarfed in the towering corner made by the cutaway walls, a familiar shape haunts itself, a complete mountain unborn within the Earth, not a ship yet, while behind it the corner’s beveled geometry fans back upward like a slide upholstered in concrete—the cutaway restoration of the old volcano’s inner cone descending to the place where magma came burning up out of its underworld of pressure and bored its vent.” Yet we find not just geology but geometry and genealogy too, that and more amalgamated.
“…by now the ground under them and the sky over them were their wings and they were the hinge.”
In a chapter named after the young man Larry, we dive into that college-goer’s stressed and scrambled mind, immersed as he is in his econ homework and classroom lessons, all those concepts being transposed into his quotidian ruminations and specific preoccupations relating to an older girl named Amy he likes and the fact that his parents are having marriage problems, to say the least, with his mother being influenced by Grace to leave his father and explore (read explode) her sexuality, yet that’s only the surface of what’s there. The fretful and equation-claustrophobic prose preceding if not predicting some of DFW’s aesthetics, particularly the pedagogic angst and anxiety one can find in DFW’s The Pale King and even more particularly the drug-addled Chris Fogle who stumbles into a tax class, the latter we remember due to the angel reader Ryan Alexander. As we understand it overall, DFW seems to have been influenced by Joe to some degree, despite the former’s dismissive insult being the only acknowledgement of the latter we and others are cognizant of. Take note, for instance, of how the mysterious cartridge of Lookout Cartridge (1974) predates a similarly mysterious cartridge in Infinite Jest (1996), although such comparisons only run so deep before they run dry.
“…like a wild friend sharing in no language but that of intense speed….”
We remember a phrase used earlier in this review (read view viewed again): Weather and Men. Yes, but we should then remember the Hermit-Inventor of New York, who is a reincarnation a descendant an echo an unchanged version of the hermit from Margaret’s youth and the one from the Navajo tall tales, the most recent individual living in a small-scale unit among a multiplicity of NY residents, having been exiled.
“…I don’t like what my words tell me like a head I have contacted into existence outside of me….”
A “defrocked meteorologist” who is some counterpart of the real-life Lorenz, known for his mathematics highlighting what is colloquially called the butterfly effect: “If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado,” Lorenz wrote in a 1972 paper titled “Predictability”. More precisely, his equations and theories tell us that our inability to measure all the micro-aspects of weather makes it virtually impossible to predict weather on a prolonged and large scale because small variabilities result in massive consequences over time, hence the analogy of a butterfly flap, “…war into weather into war and back again….” We believe the emphasis on weather is used as a further analogy because if we, we being humans on earth, can control the weather, then we might even control or at least predict the particulate universe we inhabit, backward and forward, for the chaos of weather is a microcosm of the macrocosm, a Mcelroy-cosm: “…some math he didn’t yet know for weather prediction, evolution of the atmosphere, ray on ray breaking him down into future….” And what about the lizard effect, as it were? We hear tell of in the text that “furiously made-up spiral winds […] attempt to return only to their source in the breathing of certain vegetarian reptiles and the needle-shooting cactus those reptiles woke up once a month to feed on….”
“Wind and weather a secret familiar cover, as we said, for the powers that be, and wind and weather a sandman’s cover also for a mother who went away where salt waves rolled and eyelashed upon a beach….”
Yes, we did and will find connections that are revelatory or relevant or neutral in their bearing (the spectrum is of course subjective. One man’s or woman’s meaninglessness is another man’s or woman’s epiphany), such as the interrogator’s torture method referred to as the Statue of Liberty and grandmother Margaret’s adolescent meeting with a (read the) hermit in the presence of a not-yet-assembled Statue of Liberty who is the inception of her adventurous and independent spirit, that verdigris Lady of Liberty also linked to the Navajo myth in which the Princess morphs into mist and is essentially inhaled into the statue to elude the pursuant Prince. As the angel Ryan succinctly put it: “e pluribus unum,” which upon further meditation we realize is also an echo of the lunar economy yet to be.
“…but the truth is that you’ve been in not the present sort of stuck in past but in the future looking back like crazy to the present which you’ve brought into existence again through undreamt-of-particles in you that make you a window you fall out now and again.”
As the angel Joe said himself in a Village Voice interview with his angelized (read angel eyes) friend Harry Mathews, “My New York is always a field of potential strangeness.” While most of the novel feels, for better or worse, placeless, Joe’s potential strangeness expertly comes through in the all too few NY vignettes of the 70s-80s, one about a mother and son experiencing a holdup at a restaurant, another about a father renting a bicycle in the park so that his daughter can learn to ride, and yet another about two lovers in an apartment in which a constant eldritch sound may or may not exist, etc., “…oh all the lights and their spots of sheen make a night space of spaces in which he feels held by the whole city,” chapters that are firmly DeLillo and could exist within that angel writer’s Underworld (1997). Simply put, superb, and we wished for more of them to balance out the hyper-ventilating BREATHERs
“…consciousness could make heroes of us all or feel like one more con, or raise or lower itself.”
After 600 or so pages of expansion, the next 600 or so pages retract into a black hole (read noir hole) in which the focus is singularly (read singularity) focused on Jim’s childhood trauma in which his mother ostensibly committed suicide (“salt in her lungs” and “sand in her eyes,” drowning beyond the horizon of the water, although there are rumors if not fantasies of her being saved by a submarine), sibling paternity is called into question, and mourning is made impossible in the presence of an empty grave (or is it truly empty?), and those feelings and moments are protracted to feel compacted, glacial, zooming and rezooming, all informed or deformed by the Navajo myths that his grandmother fed him even earlier and during, “…history fell apart into tales and isolated mysteries threatening to be trivial.” We grew exhausted of being spaghetti’d by this event(less) horizon and more than a tad disappointed by the entanglement of the threads or perhaps more accurately the cutting of them and, had we not been part of a colloidally-conscious group read, we most likely would have skimmed the paper skin of that all-too-hefty half, the we, we as in the angel voices, becoming he, Jim, almost solipsistically, or consider “rhythms run across the lens of a schizophrenic scope,” a phrase used by the angel Joe in his previously-mentioned NN essay, Goldberg Variations, we hear angel Ryan add. Call it incantation, call it a fractured fractal, call it hyper-repetitive if not hyper-meditative or vice versa, call it a novel that is both bigger and smaller on the inside (read insight). We ask the question how long did it take to write W&M and receive another Imp Plus transmission from the angel Joe which might also shed light like a snake on the feeling of the novel’s two halves: “about 8 years, George, maybe 9; hard to be definite when notions and even passages were half in place in my head a few years before what is now the 2nd section got written down in a mad rush, only for editor at Knopf subsequently to urge me to put the natural childbirth off-balance piece at the very beginning. I like how it can seem quite near the two beloved epigraphs.” And another Joe email to us: “I always thought of the 3 tracks of W&M as non-Euclidean parallel—Breathers; the 10 or 11 anonymous vignettes where 2 become 3, or 3, 2; & the rest. Riemann geometry somewhere in there quite relaxed.”
“…angels on the margins turn into us and out of us along their spiritual curve while voicing what they seem to need us for….”
It’s eventually revealed, although we take issue with revealed, as this novel is not one for prestidigitation as such, rather, the novel eventually evolves to hint at some malleable perceptions, such as Jim having a third brother named Spence, a deplorable photojournalist who is actually possibly himself but born from a kind of backpedaled lunar-economy mitosis, “maybe a reverse reincarnation,” maybe a product of “a lost degree of radioactive effect that divides people into two without their knowing,” Jim’s antithesis if not his antagonist: “The Hermit gazed at it until it became the one sun, though it was still clearly two.” Sun = Son. And true to time’s untruth, there are also hints that Jim is part of a kind of time-loop, existing in the future on a mental level, as it’s repeatedly said, and so he semi-amnesiacally visits earth in the past from a moon-orbiting space base in the future that is his present if not his past too. And let’s not forget the delayed idea of Trace Windows, “women and men who could receive, like windows, light in beam-waves or sun-shadows from people who had in their bodies an alloy mineral, radiant, potential…,” Jim even picking up a hitchhiking Trace Window who is able to ‘scan’ the graves of Jim’s mother and claim that a body is in fact beneath. Overall, the science fiction is there but diffuse or diluted or dispersed by the myths and quotidian obsessions and overall collapsed structure, much like the purposefully-disjointed political intrigue, but before the end (and one wonders if a novel of this nature ever ends, though here we are) we pick up on a supernova in the form of a dream within the narrative titled “The Dream as Later Reported”, which nearly compensates for the supposedly dreamless state of Jim heretofore. It could be viewed as a piece that correlates with one of our favorite stories in Night Soul, “The Last Disarmament But One”, each describing a futuristic bomb, echoingly equivalent to angel George’s Morphological Echoes story “Nuclear Mysticism”, the latter phrase having been coined by Dalí as a mytho-scientific manifesto of art since the fall of the all too real bombs of 1945, except within this story the bombs fall and explode slowly—over the course of years—which births rumors, mythologies, cults, and other psychological aberrations within the populations below. In Joe’s separate story, a bomb obliterates an entire country yet keeps to its exact borders, even the radiation stays within the country’s airspace, but what happens over time adds a bit of magical realism to this most wonderful tale, which we incite you to seek out. Within the novel, Jim dreams of a so-called People-Oriented Bomb that destroys only inorganic matter. This is demonstrated with tests on buildings that contain volunteers, “a building’s entire population of dark, luminous persons making their way to earth like skydivers before the chutes open. […] descending so slowly from the vanished upper floors that it seemed to be against their will; so slowly that many escaped with the simplest bruises.” Yet that is only the beginning of a story which is arguably the novel’s true oneiric climax if ever there was one, because the bomb affects the brains of the test survivors, forming a cult that worships the empty space of emptied space, “for the space vacated by the blast proved to be not just physical but mental and most mysteriously environmental,” and it gets even more mystical from there. Having watched The Leftovers around the time of reading this, we could easily envision a cerebral HBO adaptation of this story-within-a-story alone (read all one), we do indeed encourage fatigued readers to seek it out if nothing else.
“…where desert is a memory of wind….”
Like a grand (un)masked ball (but not) in which many of the characters come together at the end of the novel, W&M actually does end and in two places, as it were, at a theater during a staging of a creatively-adapted Hamlet opera, and at the graveyard of Jim’s mother’s non-grave.
“…the gods told us through holes quietly drilled in our heads….”
What is this novel? We hear whispers within the text itself: “…center and margins might gently shift each other inside out like light disbelieving it found state of rest at last,” “…a large, secret unity of art, her husband felt parts never really met but as if ideas were buried here that could conceivably be unfamiliar…,” a “Pseudosphere,” “…an articulated structure that gives play to a multiplicity of small-scale units,” “…transactivates its parts to plot a collaborative global act by which both Gravity and Government are divided by both Agency and Anarchy,” “the unheard of story that was being told back to her might be her own but it was coming from the future in a changed voice,” “…to remember what we didn’t know we knew…,” “and I had just picked up the book but I didn’t need to go back to the beginning to find out what the dream was referring to or what the dreamer felt about it all, and it was obviously the author’s way of taking care of some tricks he couldn’t pull off in a regular story, but mainly you felt the story got stuck in there in place of something else or to communicate between parts maybe…,” “till the point when the million million collapse into one idea.”
Flaws and all, W&M is a singular reading experience that could single you out even as you’re pluralized, tuned into “this large We we ourselves voice….”
“All events are connected by their horizons….”
Editor’s note: The aim of Invisible Books is to shine a light on wrongly neglected and forgotten books and their authors. To help bring more attention to these works of art, please share this article on social media. For early access to literary content like this and other awesome benefits, consider supporting The Collidescope on Patreon.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.