Story by Story: Brian Evenson’s Fugue State (10) ‘Ninety Over Ninety’
Tenth in the order of stories in Brian Evenson’s Fugue State (which is officially out TOMORROW from Coffee House Press) is ‘Ninety Over Ninety,’ which originally appeared in New York Tyrant.
Among the several blackened modes of Brian Evenson, his comedy⎯heretofore only poked at from askance, and under another dark veil, in the earlier ‘Mudder Tongue’⎯is another sort of shrift, that where his other stories might take noir stylings, hallucination, and paranoia, another, like ‘Ninety Over Ninety,’ takes from the slapstick and the comedic-approaching-profane.
Certainly, in Evenson’s humor stories, the appeal is not only from his maintaining of a Kafka-ian eye in the face of strange ilk, but his simultaneously flagrant and pleasant-seeming attitude, in which foul things can be said and laughed at, perhaps like Todd Solodnz. It is interesting here too, at this point in the queue of stories, to find the meta-fucked black hole of the previous ‘In the Greenhouse,’ into this comedic blank so screwed it seems an intensified version of the current state of the frequent corporate ruin of art.
I can honestly say that there seems no other author willing to be as playful in the midst of such thickly gross and terrored stories, save perhaps Dennis Cooper or, at times, George Saunders or Donald Antrim, each of whom the wondered mode of perfect marriage of language, image, and concept meets with a readability few could ever want to manage. Truly, reading Evenson, even for all of the black work and memory screwing that he manages to channel, perhaps the greatest thing to admire in him is that at no point does the reading of such concepts seem onerous, or really anything but pure, sublime pleasure. It is one thing to have managed such weight of tone and context, perfect sentences that are on their face clean and sound-made⎯and wholly another to consume the reader via their own consumption, so that the alteration isn’t work, it seems, but exquisitely compelled.
This story takes place in a publishing house soaked in the publication of commercial crap over anything literary, here done in caricature bordering on hilariously sadistic. The jokes are often a mix of over-the-top crass⎯one of the publishing houses is called MacMaster & Bates⎯and so ridiculous and blatantly gross, it’s almost creepy in itself⎯bestselling titles about housewives involved in beastiality, not to mention a book deal penned for a KKK memoir solicited by an editor who surfs nazichat.com. Any mention of works of actual literary merit here, on the behalf of our well-meaning protagonist, Kossweiller, are of course farted upon for anything that can be shucked on the public, including a new line of mystery books by one Bjorn Verenson⎯a pseudonym Evenson has been known to publish under⎯furthering, if in a totally different way, the previous story’s notion of the worming book-within-a-book.
In the queue of stories that come before it, this one intends to hit across the lips in an entirely different way, in a sense coming up for air among the various brutalities and errors of the narrative minds we’ve already experienced in Fugue State⎯but, shit, the air here is just as black as any other, if even more so, for how close it seems to other things. As, even in the midst of business and of human handlings, the perverse here is as common as white bread.
So whereas the nasty humor and the sick state of human dealings seems on its face a slapstick burning, a pause in the leak, in another way it as if we’ve come out on the wrong side of the wormhole, into a gross more real and in its way concrete than the previous cerebral wormholes. You’ll be laughing in the dire fuckdown slop of what the narrator and his piggish peoples’ propagation allow to be spewed into our public air, but, at the same time, still feel haunted and crushed a little, if allowed at last, for now, to breathe.