The narrative constraints of Ever – presumably a woman inside a room; that’s it – is a precarious way to write a novella. Without characters, plot arcs, locations, etc., language itself is summoned as a surrogate protagonist. The writer – thus reader – are both stripped of the typical arsenal of fiction; what is left is simply language’s ability to summon or evoke the most intrinsic visceral ‘truths’ of being alive, a collection of nerves funneled into a consciousness.
And that is, at heart, what Blake Butler’s Ever is about, a kind of timeless consciousness that is, remarkably and/or ironically, very relevant to a particular time: now – dispersed with cryptic evocations of some post-apocalyptic world, as in “[…] not that we knew the moon here anymore […]” Notice that Butler chooses the word ‘knew’ instead of the more likely ‘saw’ or ‘had.’ This suggests either a cognizant or intuitive decision to focus more on perception than facts.
Light (even the shifty bracketed-text seems to flicker on the page) is used, I think, as a metaphor for consciousness. Early on, Butler establishes light’s residence in place of the brain with the brilliant line, “Behind my eyes the light went on.” (I got light-headed when I read that.) This has some objective significance, being that our visual world is this exact refraction of light. Butler’s use of it is not merely a romantic trope, but a way to juxtapose the ‘natural’ world (“Let there be light” Genesis-y stuff) and the unnatural ‘corrupted’ world (post-human), a world colonized by human endeavor and its architecture – which brings me his concept of ‘the house,’ Butler’s Barthian a la Lost in the Funhouse play-thing. Put simply, the ‘house’ is used to create a dichotomy with ‘light,’ representing the unnatural and natural world, respectively. The house – that which physically confines the narrator is the very same thing that launches and enables [her] hyper-solipsist narration. Ceilings, windows, and doors are mentioned in a frenetic way, unable to establish space or location. We get the sense of entropy happening, we just don’t know where: outside the house, inside the room, or — terrifyingly — inside the body.
Butler‘s version of the body, relieved from any sentimental humanist tendencies, is both a parasite and subject to parasites; a mere host (some dot on a food-chain) for fungi, mold, and bacteria. Butler‘s use of skin as some permeable sack makes it difficult to distinguish its edges. His fixation on body fat/lard reminds me of Joseph Beuys and his homeostasis concerns. For Butler, the body is not an entity, but an event.
I find the writing very ‘male,’ and the choice of a female narrator is peculiar. Perhaps Butler, given his penchant for boundary blurring, is supplying us some hermaphrodite text. Not trying to make a joke here, but while reading I kept on reminding myself “this person has a vagina.”
Light, house, body – a lovely triad by the way – functions (or dysfunctions) in the same manner. The vague motifs themselves collapse. Ever is an experiment in narrative entropy. (Not to be too gushing, but I find it more resonant than Beckett’s work of similar concern.) The result is something aesthetically brilliant and mentally nauseating. Ever is an important, enthralling read.