BOOK OF KNUT: A NOVEL BY KNUT KNUDSON
by Halvor Aakhus
Jaded Ibis Press, Forthcoming Fall 2012
270 pages / Buy BW Version ($10-12) or Color Version ($28-33) from Jaded Ibis Press
I recently inhaled Halvor Aakhus’s BOOK OF KNUT: A NOVEL BY KNUT KNUDSON, and admittedly—considering the galleys I received are technically in PDF form and I simply couldn’t help myself—I also began by listening to that DJ Exotic Sage Presents: Blood Orange Home Recordings Mixtape and watching Jiri Barta’s ‘The Club of the Laid Off,’ and interestingly enough had no real problem paying proper attention to the book; it’s that fucking hilarious.
I sat on my couch letting my focus shift more and more into the novel, letting each corresponding media fall ever quieter as I tore deeper into the strange tale of a mathematician reading through the aptly-named Book of her now-deceased former-lover (he left her for her mother, as I understood it) Knut Knudson; and with every passing page I’d belt out another howl of laughter at the sheer brilliance and magnitude of this absolutely fucking insane narrative.
The actual book—Book—for all its strangeness and insane devotion to detail, is equally as enticing and, I daresay sentimental involving characters like Johnny Potseed, a guy who’s walked around the town of Napoleon, Indiana for 10-plus years throwing potseeds “to no avail…thus far,” and a fired mathematician (representing the cuckolded daughter’s cuckolding mother) named Slob—Slobodon—who organizes a late-night Christmas Tree planting to spite the university from which he’s been fired. The entire scene essentially thriving on minute details in weather and each participant’s academic pursuits, and ever-present cans of Keystone. Other irreplaceable namesakes include Mop, and Wolfer. This dude (who, by the way, looks like a Norwegian metal head that just walked off the set of Deliverance) is definitely onto something.
Moving on. 1.0
Something entirely eloquent happens in Aakhus’s prose that balances both the mathematically-totally-fucked (think David Foster Wallace takes a copy of Ratner’s Star into the woods and masturbates incessantly all over it while howling at the moon a la Anton Lavey’s ‘Devil’s Notebook,’ and I guess you’re getting there) and the jilted romantic observations taking place outside Book that—not even mentioning the sheer hilarious genius of everything therein—has me ready to stand by other reviewers, such as David Leavitt who called him “the smartest and most wildly inventive young writer to come around since David Foster Wallace,” which, while in the thick of the actual book, seems a vast understatement. While its mathematical style (which, in turn, is a definite understatement considering the crux of this narrative is supposed to be an unfinished novel converted into a mathematical textbook—I’m serious) will certainly perplex the generally unversed (ME) reader; it isn’t exactly imperative that you understand logic or the higher echelons of calculation to read this book, for within its brilliant forays into humorous episodes and nonsensical passages there is also a generosity put forth by the author that leaves me feeling comfortably educated without in turn questioning whether I’ve just been insulted or treated like an asshole. Asshole.
Moving on 1.1
I’m going to admit fairly candidly—and perhaps to the demise of this critique—that there are sections of this book that I couldn’t help but gloss over (the some three pages of simple numbers illustrating what Slob might potentially have referred to his cohorts as, for instance). This isn’t because I felt myself slipping away from the narrative—quite the opposite, in fact; I felt these pieces were added for some sort of effect in the author’s mind that wasn’t necessarily integral to the relatively-interesting story being told and I wanted to move beyond them as quickly as possible to get back to the guts. I will also admit that there was something so curious about the numbers that I felt myself tempted to read every single one or attempt to calculate just what the simplified word would be for a number that big (eons more than a trillion, something far out of the reaches of my feeble mind) but in deference to the fact that this is a novel—I think—I moved forward and ignored this humorous, though perhaps useless insertion of a footnote. It adds pages, I guess, and I did admit a curiosity that wouldn’t have existed without the insertion of said note, but this is one of the moments I did feel myself pulled away from the hilarity of the book on the whole. There’s brilliance-through-pushing-the-fucking-envelope, and then there’s hurling paint and hoping hard for something important; and I can’t help but speculate that this book has touches of both throughout.
Moving on 1.2 (Apologetically, I guess)
I change then from Blood Orange to Abbey Simon playing Chopin and am fairly certain you can hear him breathing/humming along throughout the recordings which seems an attempt to be connected with Glenn Gould but then again Simon’s been playing a bit longer than Gould (now dead) and the recording could’ve been made before any of Gould’s. I dunno, I hope neither ripped the other off. I hope that both played entirely of their own accord while humming along and breathing heavily because in my opinion that’s what makes classical piano recordings something worthwhile; the very guts and ephemera felt along the way that brings you closer not only to the person playing but to the composer himself.
It’s mentioned in Aakhus’s bio that for him “The first decade of the new millennium is a blur,” and although there’s that age-old adage about looking to the art, not the artist, I can’t imagine maintaining this level of interest in this book (a substantial amount, I enjoyed myself, as mentioned, there were lulls—mostly due to large piles of numbers interposed between bits of text and narrative—but by-and-large this novel is compelling and something new that I’m quite fascinated by) if it weren’t for knowing that little tidbit about the man and having seen that picture of him. It’s a good book, very contemporary, and necessarily strange, I just couldn’t wholeheartedly recommend it to the people of earth without in turn acknowledging that IT’S FUCKING FINE TO LOOK TO THE ARTIST AS WELL, and IF READING ABOUT VLADIMIR NABOKOV’S OBSESSION WITH BUTTERFLIES IN TURN MAKES YOU PICK UP LOLITA BECAUSE YOU’VE ALWAYS FANCIED YOURSELF A BUDDING LEPIDOPTEROLOGIST THEN DO IT BECAUSE WHO CARES?
Moving on 2.0
- Vehemence: First, an aside, the paintings in this book are actually insanely fucking rad, and the landscape created by the graph paper/red-stained sheets is something (of course) unprecedented for me and I’m really enjoying myself. More authors should have the courage to embrace the more visual inclinations they feel when creating a book. Perhaps changing font-size or color along the way will give your book something previously unknown to you and that fucking matters. In a generation essentially smudged with the question of the survival of the novel, courageous souls like Aakhus—and his publisher, Jaded Ibis—deserve both sincere credit and applause for their efforts.
- The juxtaposition of the corresponding critiques of the Book and the actual related passages creates a love story that nobody until the publication of this novel thought to create, which is interesting and quite worth noting. Imagine it: you’ve a dead man’s novel, about characters taken from his real life but characterized as other people, and the dead man’s jilted lover is able to figure out which character is which and comment on either the praise or defamation seen within each. It’s something special, something that makes the arithmetical lunacy in corresponding passages quite worth it and even slightly touching when looked at as though the author attempted to evade his true feelings with numerical order, etc. But probably not. (Section B. heretofore also known as “Who gives a shit, guy?”)
- TORBJORN as Knut. Shortly into the novel a character appears in a tree named Torbjorn who—it’s revealed through annotation—is Knut Knudson’s characterization of himself; and he is fucking awesome! The previous characters have their necessity moving forward, but this—aside from perhaps the girlfriend who’s annotating things (Characterized as “Claire” in Book)—guy is the lifeblood of this novel as far as I’m concerned, and he’s completely fucking hilarious. “The gin’s shit and he hates the moon.” Is one of the early ways we’re shown how Torbjorn relates to the world around him.
- What if Ulysses were written by an American mathematician with no cause for concern over whether this were a “literary” work or something that piqued the interests of collegiate types with messenger bags and awful tattoos and though he went on as an unsung hero for awhile a few devoted followers of his work started a cult and read every page of his work (playing as well the musical notes as they came up, singing when possible) while all he did was sit there looking like Euronymous-blonde smoking cigarettes and being casual. That would be this book. That would be this book, guys.
Moved on 1.0
Later on, and much deeper into the book I felt myself reeling a bit either from staring at the screen so long or from the actual story being told and its inherent lunacy. Sometimes I wondered whether this book is a critique of writing books itself, or perhaps an exploration of simple events as they transpired before the author and hence it’s all quite harmless and human but then long passages and tables come up littered with information and I can’t help but thinking humanity might be the furthest or closest thing to this author’s intention. I don’t know that I care. I know that it’s entertaining, I know that although Section 2/3 of the book begins with a preface that “the chapter is over 200 pages long and nothing happens,” it’s quite possibly my favorite portion of the novel and the most compelling. I know that, as previously stated, something new is being done here and that’s important. But I can’t stop thinking about something I read once about a man reading Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night on a single train ride and getting off the train feeling nauseous and tormented by that which he’d just endured.
- This novel’s a strange fucking picaresque that hovers just above ground for 270 pages and I think I love/hate it.
- These characters are actually rather cute and touching even considering the author’s assigning of things like “exploding head syndrome,” to some or the characterization of others as menial gas station workers with nothing much to offer the world aside from strange and seemingly useless utterances related to numbers, numbers, numbers.
- The paintings continue to FUCKING AMAZE ME and although I wouldn’t feign to have a distinct reason for there presence throughout I can say with strict confidence that they mattered as I read, and provided a deeper glance into an already brain-melting book.
- The passages written in a daily-journal format are probably my favorite, the most entertaining; but I can’t tell if that’s because they seem to combine all the already-present elements of the book (mathematical insanity, deeply-personal character studies, the importance of strictness, music, etc.) or because I simply like them. I must look into this when this book gives me back a few of my mental faculties.
I should not have read this book so fast, but the difficulty of reading on the screen made me rush through it and after several albums (Blood Orange, Abbey Simon plays Chopin, several records by Antidote) had played out on my iTunes it was over and I was sweating and tasting coffee on my lips and wondering what the fuck just happened. This is a love story, this is a story of a man who’s left the world but along the way completely defiled or blew the mind of almost everyone he came across. This is a fucked up book similar to none and all of the strange and avant-garde literature you’ve already read and although it gave me a massive headache to read it so fast I get the impression that tomorrow I’ll be waking up fondly reminiscing over the misadventures of these fucking lunatics and their opinions of one another.
(Favorite quotes or phrases from the book that I managed to pick out as I moved along. There aren’t many, which doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but rather that I kind of stopped giving a shit about reviewing the thing and just wanted to read for awhile.)
“Our story has three heroes. Unfortunately, they can be boring as hell. As disciples of algebraic number theory, quantum chemistry, and classical music, their lonely pursuit of truth has led to neither the meaning of life, nor a sense of humor, nor suicide. Only murder. So let’s begin with setting. “ – Pg. 16
“Usufructing an idea, man. Usu-fuckin-fructing.” – Pg. 23
“Book Excerpt 1.4. (Hero #2, in a Tree.) Concerning Knut’s fictionalization of himself.
Torbjorn has no idea why he’s sitting in this maple tree, twenty or so feet above the ground, drinking a two-liter bottle of Diet Mountain Dew and gin, spilling it all over himself each time he stubbornly raises the shaking bottle to his lips with only his right index finger around the bottle’s neck, and thinking how this branch is a real pain in the ass (literally), even though it’s cool how, as he leans back against the trunk, the leaves and branches emanate from him, how the moon spears back, the wind churns the leaves—jagged bits of glass, superim- posed—and leaf layers kaleidoscope the moonlight.” – Pg. 33
Figure 1.3. The sound of being fucked in your head.1” – Pg. 35
“Today is Wednesday: blue towel…” Pg. 54
“Briefs on, Torbjorn spins around to see some guy in a tuxedo mounting the staircase and carrying a violin case—or viola, rather (too big for violin)—but, yeah, that tux says everything about him: tall (over six-foot) and thin, dark-haired, with extra hairspray and aura of wannabe movie-star, but old-school, more of a Cary Grant kinda thing…except his high, breathy voice sounds more like Brittany Spears or Madonna trying to do a sinister Peter Lorre impression.” Pg. 166
“My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign. My mother’s tumor was not benign.” – Pg. 259 (Cont’d for roughly 3 pages)
Grant Maierhofer is the author of The Persistence of Crows and the weekly column A Cabana of the Mind for Delphian Inc., his unrelated work can be found at GrantMaierhofer.Org. He lives in Wisconsin and is currently at work revising a second novel for publication next fall.