October 20th, 2010 / 2:00 pm
Literary Magazine Club

{LMC} On Ken Sparling’s “What Can the World Do For Elrond?”

Ed: You can read a PDF of this story, here, so you can better participate. Buy NY Tyrant. If you would like to have the full PDF of NY Tyrant 8 so you can participate in this month’s LMC discussions, get in touch with me. But still, when you buy a literary magazine, an angel gets its wings.

“My life comes in bits, fragments, brief paragraphs, and sometimes a page or two, so it makes sense that this is my unit of storytelling.”

Sparling drops this quote in an interview conducted by Michael Kimball, published in The Faster Times (read the whole thing here), and it’s a wonderful distillation of his technique, even more appropriate in its very succinctness.

He goes on: “It isn’t so much that the storytelling units are small in my books, more that they don’t seem connected, they don’t seem to relate to each other. There seems to be no rules for what happens after a reader encounters an expanse of white space and moves onto the next little bit. Whatever it is that sustains each individual section seems to break down as soon as a section ends.”

There’s a magical quality in Sparling’s writing—a hinting at an unseen immensity, something incomprehensible, hidden emotions and thoughts lurking in the “expanse of white space.” It can be disorienting to the uninitiated, those seeking the familiar feel, the tissue of traditional narrative, of the artificial—verisimilitude. When two of these “units” come up against one another, separated by punctuation, indentation, it can feel uncomfortable in that terrible way that memory is uncomfortable—the way one thought bubbles up on top of another, overlapping, blurring into some new association.

Story exists where we—both readers and writers—find it. And Sparling’s stories arise just as much from the story units themselves, as they do from the dusty rubble of their “broken-down” endings. This is where the feeling or newness comes from: a birth before our very eyes. These white-space worlds.

Sparling’s story in the new issue of The New York Tyrant, “What Can the World Do for Elrond?” is seemingly impenetrable at first. In the first paragraph, an initially unnamed “He” is soon revealed to be the titular Elrond—a name that Tolkien fans might remember. But this revelation is soon followed by a dense chunk of quick-fire beauty, without an Orc in sight. Lines unravel one after another, evaporating, leaving behind something like an impression, a vague touch. “A mean searches for reason. For terror. He feels it in the most mundane of activities. He seeks to name it. To give it form. He seeks to capture what is lost.” Then a single-line paragraph seemingly unrelated to anything that came before it, followed by a paragraph that’s jarring in its directness:

“Teenagers were knocking over gravestones. They seemed to be looking for something. But at the same time, they seemed to be moving in patterns so random they were not patterns at all. A boy stood at the top of a small rise. The gravestones were in a shallow valley. The boy was near the top edge of the western end of the valley .Trees rose high above the stones. The boy on the rise called out to the racing lines of boys. Turn over every rock! Leave no stone unturned!”

It continues on this way for some 10 pages, scattershot, breathtaking in its use of repetition, rhythm, never losing its hypnotic hold. The story, whatever that might be, whatever that might mean, arises the way our software arises from computer code. And, as readers, we can’t help but search for something, maybe out of hoplessness, the same way we know, from experience, that those teenagers won’t discover anything by knocking over gravestones.

In a way, Sparling’s units of storytelling function as coded storytelling, unlocking something that traditional narrative—domino-effect chronology or whatever you want to call it—could never do. Sparling does something deeper, more organic.

What that is, exactly, I can’t say for sure. And that’s part of the magic. You need to see it for yourself, experience it for yourself. What awaits is nothing less than electric. Because what are memories if not impulses? Electricity pumping through our pink parts.

And always the remembering, the haunting of some previous moment, some phantom touch still stinging on our skin.

Tags: , , ,


  1. Trevor Borg

      Sparling’s recurrent meditations on “space” tell us how to read the story while we are reading it. Or hint. Why do writers seem always to want to tell us how to read? How, if these observations are not explicitly connected to character, or narrative, but in fact ride a decidedly pedagogical or non-fiction vibe, do they contribute to the “fiction”? Is it important that they do? I like this story. I like how it teaches me to differentiate “boy” from “boy.” At least locally. But something feels lost. That is, what I think of as “character” seems lost. It is uncomfortable.

  2. Guest

      i think i like to attach myself to that lost feeling and then get lost with it. that’s maybe my favorite part about reading or watching movies–slipping into somewhere else.

  3. Montpelier

      When reading Ken Sparling you have to allow yourself to be drawn into each sentence, because once you stop paying attention you will lose that hand guiding you. If you’re luck enough to hear Ken read that is also magical, when you listen to his voice his work becomes revealed to you. For me this piece carries weight of each sentence and the reader is allowed freely to roam through each paragraph not forgetting the last and happy to go onto the next.

  4. Datsun

      sworls of vivid – loved this – recurring images held it all together – wish I had the balls (metaphorically) to write this – and the mind to create it, that helps too. What else has Ken Sparling written and any idea where to find it? I have to say, I dislike reading interviews, I started on this one but I’m more interested in the work than the man behind it, and finding out the process – well, that ruins the magic for me. So if anyone can direct me to more of this guy’s work, that’d be great. I’ve seen this kind of stuff done with poetry but never prose – are there other prose writers who write similarly?

  5. Invoice

      Here are Ken’s novels:
      Dad Says he Saw you at the Mall -The first published by Knopf in ’96 and will be re-released by Mud Luscious Press in 2012.
      Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt – Hand made and now published by Artistically Declined Press in 2010.
      (Untitled) – Pedlar Press – 2003
      For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers – Pedlar Press – 2005
      BOOK – Pedlar Press – 2010
      * Pedlar Press is a great independent publisher in Toronto so it might be tough to nab those books but can be ordered on-line.

  6. Datsun

      Hey, thanks! I appreciate it.

  7. Invoice

      Your Welcome.