Friday, June 22, 2012

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Mary Robison

One D.O.A, One on the Way
Mary Robison 
Counterpoint, 2009

I wish Mary Robison were as prolific as Joyce Carol Oates, because I swear I could read another novel like this every three months.  As it is, I had to wait nearly a decade, after having read her last novel “Why Did I Ever” half a dozen times at least.

This is a 166 page book, with 226 chapters.  There are dialogues, lists and statistics – as well as actions and events conveyed with bristling energy and an economy that would have made Hemingway feel over-dressed.  Am I peculiar for enjoying blank space on the page?  (I admit I have a love for under-visited museums, for breathing space.  I am a resident of Tokyo, and weary of crowds.)

Mary Robison, it seems to me, has found an extraordinarily fun and skillful way to tell a story – in hundreds of separate fragments – and I am surprised she doesn’t have more imitators.  (I admit I’ve tried hard repeatedly to imitate her.  But what she makes seem effortless and natural – is not easy in the least.)  She’s found a way to be a “minimalist” – and say everything.  All the action, all the scenery, all the piped in music, all the flickers at the edge of the mind.  It’s artistic and thought provoking and innovative – but most of all it’s fun, it works, and it’s several steps closer than most fiction gets to conveying how life really feels.

“Impossible to put down” said Oprah's magazine, but I couldn’t bear to read this book in a sitting.  Of course not.  I’d waited a decade for it.  I read with exaggerated slowness, rereading several times before allowing myself to continue, as if it were a collection of Japanese poems from the eighth century, each fragment worthy of deep and sustained attention.  This might be a fun book to “fly through”, but I found going very slowly was also very wonderful.  There is no doubt Robison is a perfectionist – there’s not a punctuation work or phrase or clearing of the throat that seem unintentional. 

Mary Robison deserves to be commended for this marvelous book – though I admit I wish that she could work a little faster.

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