about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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Areas of Fog
A Review of Areas of Fog
by Will Dowd

Spencer Dew

“Writers only ever use the atmosphere for atmosphere,” Dowd writes, by way of introduction to this project, which emerged out of “a weather journal, a kind of running retrospective forecast,” begun in response to a period of writer’s block and very much of a piece with a deep tradition (as cited and explored herein) of writer’s journals, of exercise books and ledgers for free associative musing, the distraction that facilitates focus. Dowd stares at the clouds in order to hone his craft, and chronicles the weather in order to create a specific work of art, “a snow globe without a figurine or a monument. Just the weather.”

But weather in a forest with no one to hear it: well, is that even weather at all? Dowd’s interest is social, to be sure, from the doomed soothsaying of TV meteorologists to those literary greats who, in their works, achieved a kind of ultimate ownership over some facet of weather, from Frost on boughs weighted with ice to Dickinson on that angled afternoon sunbeam to Nabokov, who, Dowd argues, “has an incontestable claim on melting icicles.” Weather serves in these pages, too, as a metaphor for literary work: fog is novel, starting with that first page of print in which “you lose sight of who you were and where you came from” once you enter into the narrative.

Weather leads to anecdotes, to pleasurable digressions. Who knew that John James Audubon painted deathbed portraits? “A clergyman from Louisville even had his dead child disinterred for an Audubon portrait.” Some, however, are more worn; do we really need another reminder that Franz Kafka’s sister died in Auschwitz, or, better put, how does such a fact influence our reading of her by-then-dead brother’s work?

Dowd is good at smaller curiosities and their politics, from Dighton Rock to the names of certain seasons or sub-seasons, like “Indian summer” or “Gypsy Christmas,” but at times his tone is a little too “Lake Wobegone”: “The first week of September brought forth a heat so biblical that we New Englanders wandered around mopping sweat from our eyes and confessing to uncommitted murders.” Why bother reaching for the fantastic when, with patience, the fantastic comes to you, rolling through the “white murk” of weather like “the hollow sound of a glass bottle rolling on its side”?

Consider the case of Michael Collins, “the third crew member on Apollo 11, the one who never actually stepped foot on the lunar surface but stayed aboard the Columbia spacecraft, swiftly circling the moon.” “If they fail to rise from the surface,” he wrote, of Aldrin and Armstrong, “I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life and I know it.” Dowd hits gold with this one, and is at home, as well, discussing an incontestably weather-linked behavior, what he calls the “Southie Parking Wars” of Boston, but which in Chicago is called, more plainly, dibs—that business of, once excavating a parking space from a deep snow, claiming it as yours in the absence of your car by marking it with some object, some household scrap. “While it’s often cones, which have an air of officialdom, you also see a lot of beach chairs, open and turned toward the street. These chairs work because they play a mind game. You can’t help but imagine the owner sitting there like a ghost, watching intently, a tire iron resting across his knee.”

That’s precisely what Dowd was going after, of course: the image, the story even, sprung from study of the weather, a mind for the seasons spurring creative association and creation whole-cloth. Like so many writer’s journals, this book is interesting on two levels, both as a text the thread of which we, as readers, can follow, listening to the increasingly familiar voice, and as a record of and template for an experiment, a discipline for seeing and thinking, weather as mirror and lens.

Official Will Dowd Web Site
Official Etruscan Press Web Site

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