Words In: Immobility by Brian Evenson

Brian Evenson, one of my favorite short story writers, specializes in brief, enigmatic mysteries with a Kafkaesque flavor. Most of his collections have come out from publishers with more of a literary/experimental focus (Underland, Coffeehouse, Four Walls Eight Windows). It wouldn’t seem unreasonable to categorize Evenson as a straight “literary” writer whose work contains speculative or “genre” elements only to accentuate the weird unease in a Kafka/Lynch sense, and not as raw meat for a genre readership. Such a conclusion about Evenson’s work might seem to be argued-against by the release of Immobility, a post-apocalyptic tale which almost be called an “adventure” (if a quiet one), published by SF/Fantasy powerhouse Tor Books.

The story begins with the awakening from cryogenic stasis of Josef Horkai, a paralyzed amnesiac with unexplained resistance to the environmental toxins and radiation which keep the rest of the few surviving humans hiding underground. He’s given a mission by Rasmus, seemingly in charge in this desolate, wrecked post-Kollaps aftermath, and a pair of “mules” named Qanik and Qatik, twins or perhaps clones, carry Horkai on the assignment. On the way, Horkai tries to get information from the mules, whose responses often seem nonsensical, yet sometimes contain information or even wisdom.

Horkai’s muddled memory, which leaves him uncertain about such basic facts as whether he’s even human, drives him even more strongly than any assigned mission. Immobility isn’t just about Horkai’s paralysis, but about his inability to choose any direction for himself because he lacks the necessary information to judge his own situation. Plagued by cyclical memories of sleeping and awakening from sleep, Horkai struggles to understand who he is, and how to deal with direction in which he has no say. I take this as a direct and explicit comment about the way some religions keep followers in the dark, use them as fodder for the promulgation of the faith. Evenson’s own history as a former member of the Mormon church, and the story taking place in Utah, particularly near the Brigham Young University campus, would seem to support this interpretation.

The story is reminiscent of Cormac Mccarthy’s The Road in terms of mood, yet in that story the protagonist was strongly driven toward a certain end. Horkai isn’t sure what he’s seeking, beyond the most basic sort of self-knowledge. The foundational nihilism of Immobility should come as no surprise, as in his acknowledgements Evenson name-checks Thomas Ligotti, a horror writer noted for his pessimism about humanity. I enjoyed Immobility, found it stimulating and well-written, though not quite as sharply-honed as Evenson’s short works. It’s worthwhile for those readers who enjoy darker tones and a bit of philosophical challenge, but may be too bleak for some.

They Come in Pairs

Works by all my favorite writers keep rolling ashore, two by two.

Trade paperback edition of Laird Barron’s The Light is the Darkness arrived recently, just a week or so after I finished his novel The Croning.

Just finished reading Brian Evenson’s Immobility (review forthcoming), and one of the very next items in my “to read” pile is Evenson’s new collection Windeye.

One of my favorite novels this year, Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand, was followed closely by another Hand novel, Radiant Days. Can’t wait to dig into this one.

Another of the top writers of weird fiction, Caitlin Kiernan, has one novel The Drowning Girl perched near the top of my “read next” pile, and another collection Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart schedule to arrive probably the day after I finish her novel.

This is certainly preferable to one’s favorite writer taking multiple years between books. Still, I keep looking longingly and impatiently at the pile. So many things I’m eager to begin.

Lately I Read Faster Than I Review

Usually I read a book or two, then review a book or two. The pace is steady. I don’t normally read so much that I get behind on reviewing what I’ve read.

Now I’m behind.

Set some things aside to read The Croning (see last blog post) and decided it’s time to start catching up, so I reviewed that one as soon as I finished it.

I’m pretty close to the end of Immobility by Brian Evenson, so I’ll have to do that one too.

Then there are all these I read and haven’t reviewed yet:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite

The Body Artist by Don Delillo

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

…LIES….Thunder….ashes… by Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

The Wet Nurse by Mike Dubisch

It’s worth saying that the lack of recent reviews is not at all due to lack of enthusiasm about what I’ve been reading. On the contrary. There’s some great stuff here, lots of 4 and 5 star reviews coming up. I have a lot I want to say about these!

Words In: Fugue State by Brian Evenson

The first time I remember hearing the term “fugue state” was in association with the David Lynch film Lost Highway, in which a character detaches psychologically from life he knows, loses his very self. He drifts on through life, encountering strangers who are vaguely familiar, and tripping over circumstances which seem tenuously related to the life and self-hood he knew before.

I don’t know how much Brian Evenson was inspired by Lynch’s film, if at all. The characters in Fugue State encounter mysteries, and in most cases undergo some kind of shift or dislocation of personality. Sometimes the characters are lost, while the reader is allowed insight into the character’s plight, and at other times the reader is equally mystified. This obliqueness is intentional, not a matter of poor craft, of stories lacking somehow. When an author gives the reader such a large helping of absurdity, of disconnection and illogic, the reader must determine whether the effects are in the service of a coherent artistic intention, or if the storyteller is himself lost, or just goofing around. Evenson’s stories always convey not only willful intention, but consummate craft.

There may be no more than a thin line between the pointlessly nonsensical and the profoundly obscure, or resonantly absurd. Storytellers like Kafka and Borges, not to mention David Lynch, manage to test the limits of what their audience may consider meaningful without every straying over that aforementioned line.

These stories vary dramatically in length, from 2-page snippets to the 30-page title novella. Fugue State straddles the boundary between experimental literary fiction and genres such as weird fantasy, horror and slipstream. The writing here has the flavor of edgy-yet-mainstream literature, but in these stories weird things occur as in Poe, Kafka and the like. Just as with the other authors I’ve mentioned by name, Brian Evenson’s work is not for everyone. These mysterious and intelligent fictions don’t always give answers, but rather stimulate some hidden, unknowable aspect of the subconscious. Those who like this kind of thing – Kafka, Borges, even David Lynch’s Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive – will love Fugue State. I recommend it highly.