Grave Conditions

Exhibit 10.19

The Raw Shark Texts

Sometimes I’m easy. If you write a novel that quotes Murakami and Calvino, features an ethereal “conceptual shark” as an antagonist, and includes an underground world of people who explore unspace, well, I’m probably going to enjoy your book. If the last quarter of the book is more or less a retelling of Jaws, all the better. Steven Hall’s debut novel has all of these things and quite a bit more in a quick 450 pages. I might try to review it at length soon so I’ll keep my thoughts here brief.

I loved it.

Okay, less brief:

The plot – it probably won’t do any good to describe it to you. Not that it’s difficult to follow, exactly, just that its delightful oddity might seem over-the-top out of context. Here goes: Eric Sanderson wakes up in his house without any memories. The prior Eric Sanderson has foreseen this occurrence and arranged for a series of notes, letters, and mementos to arrive. These are less than helpful since the prior Eric Sanderson doesn’t seem to remember much more than our Eric Sanderson because a conceptual shark–called a Ludovician–has been eating his memories. And it’s coming back.

You know, that old story.

It’s hard to express just how well the conceptual elements are handled. The shark isn’t a shark…but it’s totally a shark, peaking its fin above the floor of his consciousness and hunting Eric Sanderson down until it has eaten everything except his pointless human shell. Part of the beauty of the book–both as an object and as a concept–is that it visualizes its language-based terrors as pictures crafted out of words. It’s pretty incredible to see a novel–a thriller no less–so singularly focused on thought and language and culture that it’s impossible to describe the book without touching on how those elements form us as people.

As you might have noticed, it’s a highly original book. Still, it’s not always perfect. The language seems to erode as the pages go on, possible because the author (like this reader) might have preferred to spend the entire book in his dark, theoretical underworld rather than pushing the plot toward the Jaws reenactment. Also, the ending seems to want us to question the reliability of the narrator, but of course every reader is already doing that given his condition. The thing is, most if not all readers will decide that they don’t care if he’s crazy as we’re people looking for a good story not detectives trying to find what’s real in a world of impossibility. It’s more fun to believe in the shark than it is to doubt it, and risking our faith for a wink seems pointless if not disrespectful.

Besides, we know which side the author falls on. The world here is too remarkable to dismiss so easily.

Comment / Posted in Books, Fiction, Grave Conditions

Exhibit 8.12

I hate April Fool’s Day. I don’t know who’s responsible for it–probably the Australians–but a responsible democratic populace needs to have faith in the newspapers, television stations, and video game news websites it relies on for information.

Take these hoaxes from North Platte, Nebraska’s local paper:

Kids learn too at hazardous waste collection day
-Ha! Everyone knows Hazardous Waste Collection day is in May. Nice try.

Totally nude bar scheduled to open Friday
-Ha! The ‘totally’ nude bar has been open for years. They must be referring to the new ‘utterly’ nude bar that is opening in the old Blimpie.

68 people arrested at Dawson County party
-Ha! They meant to say Sherman County.

NP man remains in grave condition after bar fight
-Wait, where was it at? Kelsey’s Place? Actually, this one sounds about right. Never mind.

If I were to do April Fool’s Day pranks, they’d probably be about Shelley Long. Maybe something about her coming back to television to do a Cheers spin-off. Maybe it would be called Cheer Up! Oh, but I can’t joke about something I want so very deeply to be true.

Comment / Posted in Grave Conditions, Holidays, Sherman County