There is no way I am not talking about this here. I don’t know how to start, actually. I feel like if I had the book in front of me I’d have some context, maybe. I don’t know. I’m going to take the “book & feelings” approach. It’s been 19 days since I finished the book, but whatever:
First, the shape of the book, its size, the paper, the texture; from a material design perspective, this book is ideal. I’m not kidding. This is probably ultimately my favorite size of a book for fiction. There is something ridiculously pleasant about it. This is purely subjective of course. If I ever write a novel this is the size I want it to be. I think its width to height ratio is similar to that of a half-sheet of Legal paper, which is a good ratio. Not square, but not as rectangular (well it is of course literally rectangular but you get the idea) as a normal paperback. It is a good ratio. The book has French flaps too, or whatever they’re actually called. It’s nice.
But a book can look nice and be shitty, we all know this. This book is not shitty.
Blake Butler understands that doing things like describing a location in immense detail or telling us the entire life-story of a character is totally fucking useless, futile. It’s just artifice piled upon more artifice. The only thing that matters in a narrative are the events that happen within the narrative. A character defined exclusively by words can literally not have depth as the page is two-dimensional. With stupid shit like that out of the way, there is nothing but the event of fiction: there is a family and they move into a house (but maybe they’ve always lived in the house) and things happen to them & the house.
It would be reductive, perhaps, to make the statement, “nothing makes sense.” This is because within the diegesis established by the book, “everything makes sense.” WHAT IS NOT TO UNDERSTAND.
The book takes place almost exclusively within the house, though there are times when characters move into other houses or the times when the father is driving to or from work or stopped at a red light or getting food at a restaurant on his drive home from work and there are maybe ten pages where the son is at school. The house is what’s important.
There is an insistence on shapes & physicality; wait, there are materials and the materials are important is what I mean. There are materials and the materials are important. The son receives a package and it sits in his room and haunts him without being dead, and there’s a man that talks to him through a screen and there are all these fucking wonderfully terrifying and abject events, there are just things happening. This is all. If realism actually meant realism it would be limited to talking about things happening or not happening because in life that is all that happens.
And I like to feel.
But there is hair everywhere sometimes. Ants crawl over the boys body and bury into his skin. Most notably is the fact that there are signifiers of the 21st century and they do not feel out of place or “weird” or disjunctive. The son watches a film on television and realizes that something is wrong in the film. This feelings that Blake holds in this segment, it is the feeling that makes me like art. It is abstracted in description: “Their faces are blurred,” but within the momentum of the words that are defining what these pages hold, this is all that’s needed to establish the terror [INSIDE THE BOOK THERE IS TERROR].
I don’t know how to review books I think I don’t understand what the point is. I am more concerned with things surrounding the book. Like my experience with the book. This is very much “new criticism” of me or not I don’t know what that means T.S. Eliott is a fake-British asshole, but I like that poem The Hollow Men or Man or whatever because it was one of the first times poetry made me feel.
Inside of Blake Butler’s book there is a terrible mystery where a boy receives secret instructions and he follows the instructions incorrectly but thankfully because of the way the diegesis work the way he follows the directions is successful, he ends up in the terrible black form growing in the neighbor’s lawn.
There is so much that happens.
One of the amazing things that this book does is that it brings in the mythology that Real Life Heather O’Rourke can inflect. It works in the way creepy pasta works, which is to say really effectively (and I say this in a positive manner, as creepy pastas are more exciting to me than 90% of contemporary literature and I’m not really kidding). Oh right anyway I didn’t know this but Heather O’Rourke said some totally creepy shit surrounding the three Poltergeist movies and the way they were cursed. I think Heather O’Rourke haunts the book, in fact, now that I think about it I’m fairly sure that she does. She is the son’s new friend. This is critical analysis.
I think this book is a book that is an event in itself, even though arguably it contains nothing but happenings, not in the M. Night Shyamalan way but rather in an “Allan Kaprow + narrative” kind of way. The book is space.
I don’t know. I found myself not being able to read less than a hundred pages of this at a time, and I killed the last 200 pages in a single sitting. What’s amazing, and, ultimately, important to note here, I think, is that this sort of enrapture is not due to a central-conflict theory– this doesn’t work like Lost, in the sense that we are watching (reading) with the express purpose of discovering what happens to a character we are invested in. The momentum does not work this way. In fact there is really no narrative thread that carries through the entire book. The son’s package is something that is introduced & not resolved until 100 pages later, but it’s not something that you are constantly wondering about. It’s not presented as a mystery-to-be-solved.
The pleasure in this book, and the momentum, comes from the autonomous events that occur. Each chapter within each section could possibly be shuffled and the work would still work as a whole. BUT: don’t get me wrong, what this results in is not a disparate collection of short fragments that are related only thematically. Rather, there is an inherent logic in the way the narrative is working. Everything together adds up to a larger whole, a zone of affect, that carries the book. The order perhaps doesn’t matter (or maybe it does–obviously I read the book in the order it’s presented on the pages), but the inclusion of everything does.
What if a house was breathing, I think is a question that Blake probably had at some point. This book specifically doesn’t answer that, rather, it investigates it. Butler’s book seems to work via the medium of contingency. The facts, of course, are entirely diegetic, redefined outside of our flesh world and posited into the text, and this is why it works.
This book is amazing, is what I’m saying.