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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The “fin” of the title has an absence inside: it is “f in,” then, while also signifying that section of a shark visible above the opaque waves or that metal blade decorating the edge of an automobile or even, as the back cover suggests, a brand of smokeless cigarettes. Readers form a constellation of associations from these sole remaining fragments, these three letters, these component parts.
The book follows this pattern as well, reading in part like a novel from which words—many, many words—have been erased. We are given some chapter divisions, hints and fractured syntax, a scattering of words like the breadcrumbs of a fairytale. There are no page numbers. There is much white space.
A story reveals itself slowly, as the outline of objects becomes clear, in time, via night vision. Your eyes adjust as you read. There is a dead girl in a car, a corpse, escorted. From the first page we see “serial killers,” “meth labs,” and “ghosts,” among other threats in a landscape, crumbling and shadowed. The threat of drowning exists alongside very literal and ubiquitous erasure. “Pink” and “lace” are hung in relation to a “chain link fence”; “disorder” and “sex” with “so familiar.”
We hear—as if eavesdropping, scribbling down what we can make from whispers—of careless driving, a cheerleader, a popular girl, bruises, a wallflower, cheap food, truth or dare. “Sometimes I lie,” someone says, unidentified. And “almost impossible, explained police, to identify the driver.”
“[C]ars stay / still while / scenery change” says one page, with the words “daily violence” and “random and reckless” scattered below. There are hints of intoxication, in the text and in its stutter: “a message / disturbing the surface / a seam.” A curve, a curb, a lighter, a plastic flower. Rare moments of clarity break through: “He had crazy eyes, the kind that sink inside you like fishhooks and come up all scales, all the gunk from the sea.”
This haunting debut title from the new Noctuary Press—run by Kristina Marie Darling, funded by the English Department at the University at Buffalo, focused on female writers working in hybrid and innovative forms—has the elements of certain experimental films. The dream works, say, of Maya Deren, though pushing beyond the inherent linearity of Deren’s work. Pages decorated with dashes of words, it’s easy enough to treat F IN like a flip-book, making its fragments dance, frame-by-frame: “a boarded window,” “the dead come back.” While there is an order to it, reading the book out of order, or opening at random, immerses one in the experience equally well. “Sugary,” “asked for it,” “spread,” and “blackmail,” “head on a stick” “closed in one her”: there is a new mode of noir here, among other things. This is a book to savor and to consider, a model of technique that challenges the envelope. If this book sets the standard for Noctuary titles, this will be a small press to watch.
Official Carol Guess Web Site
Official Noctuary Press Web Site