by Kyle Muntz
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014
108 pages / $13.95 buy from Amazon
To give the reader a dream on paper—that’s what sur-realist writing’s about, and Kyle Muntz’s new novella Green Lights (out 5/5/14 from Civil Coping Mechanisms) does it well. It sits nicely next to Jesse Ball’s Samedi the Deafness, Paul La Farge’s The Facts of Winter, and Shane Jones’ Light Boxes in my imaginary library of dream-novels.
Green Lights tells its tale with a delicate, simple tongue, so as not to jar the reader from the dream it’s planted in his brain. To compare Lights’ prose with that of Muntz’s previous, denser work (especially VII) is to be reminded of the author’s talent—he’s a writer wielding style to suit his substance, not the other way around. This is art with ideas, albeit ideas that can only truly be expressed via the irrational—the Dream, as Breton called it.
The novella describes an apparently endless neighborhood where the color of the light changes everything—people’s moods, the weather, whether or not the lonely moon can take a vacation in the form of a strange young girl, whether or not ghosts are real, whether or not one is host to a kind of codependent parasitic octopus—all of which bizarre changes are described as if they were—if not normal, at least not surprising, and not without their own kind of dream-logic.
(Which is what I mean by sur-realism: the Dream pasted on top of the Real—think David Lynch, think Bizarro ﬁction minus the Cronenberg and gross-out horror influence, maybe.)
And these changes are, as I said, all about the color: “I want to talk about color” is our protagonist’s mantra. And though he never seems to get there—the narrative feels like one digression after another (in a good way)—what we have really is a dream-mediation on color. For color is nothing but wavelength—the waves of light we ride on, that determine our fate, our identities. Light may not bestow substance, but it does determine perception, and perception is everything: in one light, the meanest old man in the world (who lives down the street from our narrator) is a simple product of his past; in another, he’s a cannibal hunting children for food; in another, he’s enacting pagan rituals of sacriﬁce. Everything is in this kind of flux—the moon, the narrator’s maybe-girlfriend, the bipolar-ish inventor called M.
This is a story about what gets into people, what makes us do what we do, what makes us who we are. And it might seem naïve to wonder if it’s all perception, if it’s all a matter of color, but “naïve” is itself a matter of perception.
Sometimes there are questions you can only ask in a dream. And sometimes that’s the only place the answers make sense.