[Title] by [name of author] — Mark Deweirdt

It would open with a formulated flourish…

Thus begins [Title] by [name of author], insofar as it can begin of its own accord. A conditional novel, its narrative is a series of empty sets for the reader to fill in–the way cognition fills in the invisible backside of a three dimensional object. At the center of its “story” is [your name]. The direct address not merely intimating your presence (as with Calvino’s Traveler), but veritably hypostatizing you there where you sit reading,

…the volume would open into a well-lighted room. There (here), you’d comprise the only
organic matter (the ersatz human figure)…

Unwilling to wink and nod and move into the story proper as if what’s being related has happened or stranger still, is happening–[Title] remains fixated at fiction’s premise (ontology). What’s the real, underlying story here (there)? What is actually happening in the well-lighted room? Could it ever be more than two people (author/reader) conspiring to…pretend for hours on end? And if this reduction is ineluctable, have the both of you wasted the better part of your life? (Presuming you are a “person of the book” and if you get past page one of this “novel” there’s a good chance you are one of the afflicted.)

For the first time you consider leaving Protagonist to his own (narrative) devices.
After all, you’re under no obligation to remain here (there). But then he wakes, opens his

eyes and you are disarmed by his “mournful countenance.” He is like you, you see. Is one of you. Is why and who you are here.

whether [Title] is a work of Herculean renunciation (shoveling out the endless piles of manure in the stables of literature) or merely a playful romp through the tropes of a shared delusion, its import seems inescapable: fiction is at best juvenile, at worst pathological.

What enchantment draws you back to this simulated sanctuary over and over, all your life? Where else might you be right now and what might you be doing there? Life is elsewhere seems to be the self-contradictory tough love mantra, but whether [Title] is a work of Herculean renunciation (shoveling out the endless piles of manure in the stables of literature) or merely a playful romp through the tropes of a shared delusion, its import seems inescapable: fiction is at best juvenile, at worst pathological.

Apropos of which, the narrative takes a psychoanalytic turn, “triangulating” Protagonist, Author and Reader. Exchanges increasingly fraught with the fundamental absurdity of their relationship, Author and Reader eventually reach a critical impasse,

Author endeavors to set things straight, but only mucks things up and you begin to see that your relationship is more internecine than symbiotic. Your being here (there) together is immaterial to the [civic/spiritual/aesthetic] mission of the narrative and you feel that it’s best to keep your distance and maintain focus on the significance of the story itself (as it pertains to the human condition).

It is a reasonable position. You’re making a lot of sense. Author holds you in his absent gaze as he reflects on your point of view.

This complicity will strain to the point of mutual annihilation as Author’s thinly veiled avatar, Protagonist, goes on foundering in the “great gulf fixed (between each I and Thou).” Unable to eat, speak (aloud) or exit the well-lighted room, he is relegated to thinking, pacing and reading the writing on the walls (papered by the pages of “great books”). At a pivotal moment in the novel, an exhausted Protagonist just stops and sits “looking out at an imagined onlooker, real tears streaming down his fictive face” which seems to “implicate you there in the middle distance.”

Because isn’t this what you’ve come for? To watch someone’s life fall apart from a safe distance? To amuse yourself with another’s anguish? Well, here (there) you have it.

For a fleeting moment of irrationality, you will consider the romantic gesture of calling out to Protagonist and “throw[ing] your arms around the no one there.” before deciding against this “lapse in logic” and “breach of narrative etiquette.”

Enter the Geist of Christmas Past/Present/Future (ostensibly the specter of Marx), calling Protagonist to account for his aimless, opiated existence. Author, who can “never quite wriggle free of his being-in-the-world straitjacket,” wants to materialize and intervene on behalf of his “issue” but ultimately concedes that he/they will forever be:

Unregenerate. Immaterial.

And so on we go through the motions of this folie à deux as the pleasure of reading rings hollower and hollower until that demented duo (author and his hypocrite lecteur) finally awaken to a deepened disbelief of all artifice.

Pieced together from the annals of literature (hundreds of allusions in its 80+ pages), [Title] is a parenthetic, elliptical cry into the silence of a Borgesian library.

[Name of author] was born in [#### Anno Domini], in [major metropolis/rural outpost/overseas] and was educated at [prestigious university/notable MFA program/public library]. He’s written a number of other books, several of which were [praised/ awarded/banned/remaindered]. He now lives in [university town/upstate village/parts unknown] where he [academic post and/or marital status] and where he continues to [etc., etc.] or recently perished in a tragic [etc.] [Title] is published by Sublunary.

Mark Deweirdt is the author of After Endgame (Bevilacqua Press/1987) and reviews/essays appearing in Kant’s Hump, Don’t Play Ball in the House, Muskmelon Ltd. and several other now defunct literary magazines of the 1980s. After a decade of authorship he retired to a life of material gain, procreation and quiet desperation in the Seattle suburbs. This review marks his first composition in roughly 18 years.