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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In describing his notion of the writerly—that sort of text that, rather than conveying fixed meaning to a reader who finds herself in a passive position, puts the reader in an active place of constructing meaning—Roland Barthes says, “the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world . . . is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system . . . which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages.” There are multiple meanings here, too, of course, but one manifestation of the writerly is surely that sparse, evocative mode engaged by Grant Faulkner in this collection, “drabbles” or one-hundred-word stories. “What if I privileged excision over any notion of comprehensiveness, and formed narratives around caesuras and crevices?” he writes, describing the genesis of this project.
The formal conceit here—restriction, foremost, a sort of Dogme 95 for writers—pushes Faulkner toward a style wherein “story” is something pieced together, by the reader, from implications. Every detail, in this terse form, seems telling, radiating a mysterious significance. Much like other restricted forms—haiku came to mind more than once, in reading this book—syntax is folded in upon itself, words standing alone like miniature paintings. Consider the story of a man who grew from a child who used to write poems to flirt with a girl... He continues to write them from Afghanistan. We read: “The moon here, wrapped in burlap. Baddur.” There is no explicit mention of war, but we have one-hundred curated words, a pace established by their linkage, and an emotional tone. Some of these pieces are taut with tension or sigh with mournfulness, and many make that gentle loop of nostalgic thought, men and women looking back on what was or was not.
Indeed, for Faulkner, the “drabble” form has implications beyond the formal: these stories explore a theme related to their form. “Whether it’s the gulp between a loved one, the natural world, or God, we exist in lacunae,” he writes. These short-short stories, then, express “an aesthetic that captured these ‘fissures,’ as I began to think about them.” The distance between lovers is one such fissure. There’s the stewardess traveling across the globe and over the flesh of foreign men, all out of a failing need to push past the memory of a former, lost lover. We see she “learned how to say ‘shower’ and ‘bathroom’ in other languages,” we hear how “Travelling through others’ flesh was like smelling the air of exotic places,” and yet in the end we’re told that “She traveled in search of amnesia, but she’d only taken a Quaalude in the end.” Likewise, when one member of a couple wakes on a couch, he tries to make sense of the scene in which he is entangled, pieces together drunken memories like clues—as we, the readers, do. “Dried leaves skittered on the windowpanes like guilty giggles. Her panties were still on so they hadn’t fucked.” These are stories about consequences and implications, teasing out the notion of what is or is not enough—again, all concepts that link back to the form of the drabble itself, all ideas that emerge from close engagement with this genre of literature, this species of micro-narrative. “Absences can move with such a force,” we read. This book is woven of such powerful absences, and, moreover, crafted such that the reader finds herself in the position of riddling through writing her way out of these short but lingering texts.
Official Grant Faulkner Web Site
Official Press 53 Web Site