Built On Silence

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Relationships between characters are built on their interactions with each other. What they say, when they say it, etc. In “Days in the History of Silence,” Lindstrom does something very different, exploring a series of relationships that are about what is NOT being said. The silences, the secrets, the unknown pasts, are what animate these people.

It’s a beautiful and strange book, about what happens to people who have never learned how to speak to one another. In gorgeous prose, Lindstrom portrays silence and sorrow, an irony of which the text seems well aware. Come to find the secrets in the characters’ pasts–I know I was chomping at the bit to know–stay for gloriously rendered text and delicately beautiful images.

The Beginning Of Change

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When does a well-contented community transform? When does it become something else, a place where dissent and change can grow?

In the case of the dystopian Baltimore in Chang-Rae Lee’s “On Such A Full Sea,” it’s the departure of a young woman. She is leaving to chase a boy who disappeared, but he is not as important. The woman who walked away is the image, the figure, the symbol that captures the imagination.

Told in a beautifully rendered second person plural, this book is about how revolution begins. And it is about a girl, looking for the boy she loves.

“Great Form” Is Not the Same Thing As “Great Story”

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There’s no reading experience quite like the novel “S.” Unfortunately, there are a hell of a lot of stories EXACTLY like those in “S.” A college romance, a Kafkaesque narrative with hints of Vonnegut, a “romance of letters” between people who never met in real life, and a minor literary thriller: these have all been done before, and done far better than they are in this book.

It was not immediately clear that these stories are not interesting, because for a while I was so caught up in the form I didn’t notice. It’s a little like reading a comic book in that the eye is forced to rove. Triggers and hints at what direction you should be looking, and what you should be reading at what time, are carefully coded into the text. It takes a serious effort just to read the damn thing, much less to dig into the story.

The problem is that the thrill of reading in a new way does, in fact, wear off. And at that point, I remembered what I liked about most of the other novels I’ve ever read: the damn story. And the story in here is full of unbelievable characters, the worst being an incredibly grating 22-year-old girl’s cliched preoccupations scrawled in the margins. The narratives themselves are interesting only for their form, the way the authors have woven them together–not for the stories themselves.

We Read to Know We Are Not Alone

This quote, by William Nicholson, perfectly describes the experience of reading JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst’s novel “S.” This thing takes the “book within a book” trope to a whole new level.

Here are the layers:

1) The slipcase with “S” and Dorst and Abrams on it.

2) The novel inside, “Ship of Theseus,” by the made up author VM Straka, whose identity within the world of the novel is unknown.

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3) The novel is itself a translation by an unknown translator

4) The novel is a fake library book, stolen by a teenager who is now a graduate student.
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5) The owner of the novel and a young woman exchange notes in the margins, having conversations, leaving stuff between the pages for one another to read.

6)  The marginal notes appear to come in at least 3 sets, written at different times in different colors of ink.

Six layers of not being alone. Story intertwined with story.

The kids write to each other in the margins. The translator writes footnotes that are coded messages to the author of the original novel. And the reader opens it up and peeks into these lives. Everyone, reading and writing to make contact with others. To feel less alone.