View Literature blogs Literature, novels, author, writing Fiction Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Sunday, September 21, 2008

19 Knives

I've just finished 19 Knives, which this week is sort of a miracle since I've been working non stop with my editor the brilliant Andrew Steinmetz. He raises all sorts of questions and he and I seem to differ a good deal on how much we must offer the reader. Where I go gaga on Pynchon and Self I suspect Andrew would not. And that's good. It forces me to be real, real clear.

I want to review Jarman's book, but first I'm still shaking off the damp malaise caused by the suicide of David Foster Wallace. Tragic is all. Depression, chemical imbalance, it all must suck in the long term. Evidently he was on some very heavy medication and then had undergone electro-shock therapy. He was a spark of fun, observant, ballsy. The literary world has lost a diamond. McSweeneys is posting tributes, and a few of his articles are easily found on the net for those who want a taste.

Ok onto Mark Anthony Jarman. Preface, I picked up his newest recently, one of those books you see and your tongue falls out, and because you have no money you cut off your least favorite two fingers as collateral so you can take the book home that night. 19 Knives came out in 2000 and it blends slightly earier narrative form with the jumpier form he now embraces. It's fantastic stuff. The first in the book tells it all, "Guided by Voices" in which a man recounts stories about his friend, John Stark Lee. What is so wonderful about Jarman is how he throws in the universe when needed, and often when not needed and he cups his hands around the contradictions and like a potter forms them into a discursive form. Don't look for teleological plot advancement here -- and in this respect it's a huge antidote to formulaic/New Yorker types of stories.

What really sends me into a cheek chewing frenzy are his sentences. Try out these for size:
"Margaret Atwood says, Maybe my message is bleak because it needs to be bleak."
"Black payphone like a gun to my head I stand there, my feet disconnecting from the flat earth, getting air. The phone smells like vinegar and someone has said, I could falll for you in a big way."
or in Burn Man on a Texas Porch:
"Where are my lost eyebrows? Did they fly up, up, up, or drift down as delicate ash, floating like some unformed haiku on a winter lake? My eyebrows got the fuck out of Dodge. Flames went up and down me as they pleased; fire didn't have to obey pecking order or stop-work orders. Kids in pyjamas watched me burn like Guy Fawkes, watched me dwell in possibilities.

Yep. E pluribus unum. Almost every page, lines where rubber hits the tarmac, tears up the tarmac, rips the road asunder. There will be blood and guts and the spiked punch of freewriting.

If anything, Jarman makes a case for narration that does not conform. It's not idea driven, say as the work of Barthelme, nor is it as machine gun as Leonard Michaels, but it's there, spot on, tight in its looseness. He writes at one point, "You narrow the universe to one person, knowing you cannot, knowing there's a price for that." That, my dear readers, is a review of Jarman in a single sentence.