By A.B. West
FC2, 2002, ISBN 1-57366-104-X; 128 Pages, Paperback $10.95. [Browse/Purchase]
Review by Bob Williams
Experimental writing, the specialty of FC2, is only experimental if it doesnt work. West, writer of highly poetic prose and adept at stagecraft, makes her writing work. One does not need to read more than two of her thirty-one meditations (plus one unnumbered one) that make up Wakenight Emporium to see that, although she builds precariously, she is firmly in charge. As in poetry and in all really great prose, West determines the exact value of crucial words Wakenight Emporium can be read in a short evening but it will dwell in the mind indefinitely.
The meditations that make up Wakenight Emporium dwell on a host of subjects, including the narrators family, the meaningless quarrels that punctuate life, the nature of Martians (who resemble Richard Nixon), and the many varieties of time. There are also highly evocative fragments of fiction for example, Two Young Men the relevance of which emerge as the book progresses and accumulates meanings.
Although persons appear, they are less important than the person who writes Wakenight Emporium. Persons appear to give significance to Wests steady flow of ideas, and the ideas especially those regarding time are superficially the true characters of this fiction. West describes time and space with an elegant simplicity that reminds one of Lears clown. Time and space keep everything from happening all at once in the same place. But time comes in different styles. Some modes of time are elastic and some are wide. Time is not or is not only unadorned linearity between than and now.
Birds in flight, for example as cats have noticed pass continually from the here and now into the infinite and the eternal and back again. They are of another order, as are the cats that watch the passage of birds between different modes of reality. Dogs, on the other hand, are for the most part just really nice chaps who need us to like them despite their inability to manage a distressing fixation with ghastly smells.
Is that all then? A coruscation of ideas, an intellectual balloon that floats above reality? Not quite, very importantly not quite. In the first meditation the narrator describes the horror that was her parents loveless marriage. Later the father reappears through the description of one habitual action, trivial but memorable. In the last meditation, the mother calls her on the telephone. It is a vampiric visitation, and the narrator saves herself by an invocation of the ocean.
In short, the extravagance and intellectualism of the narrator is the staged drama above the seething disaster of her earliest memories.
Some of the liberties that West takes are Joycean. Her Martian lullaby is like the flat poetry with which Joyce decorated Finnegans Wake. The oblique mechanisms of the narrative recall the substitutions and reversals of the Wake as well.
But West does write very good poetry. The poem that introduces the book is substantial and potent, but the poetic passages of the twenty-ninth meditation are even more convincing, and end with the kind of elaborate punning at which Joyce excelled:
Remember me, oh my darkling, unravished bride of silence and slow time.
Remember yet how shone our lives, like sunbeams bright when skies were grey.
Am gone now and lost forever, sore forgot in clement time ... dreadful sorry ... clement time.
A book that defies categories is not for the lazy reader, but no reader that relishes a challenge with rewarding material should ignore Wakenight Emporium.
1 March 2004
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