Staff Book Reviewer Jessica Maybury is a recent graduate of the MA in Writing programme from NUI, Galway, Ireland. Her work has appeared in Nth Word, Word Riot and Prick of the Spindle, among other places. Her Web site is jmaybury.blogspot.com.
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The building from which we have just made an exit is already locked; its churning stars extinguished, planets suspended, moons switched off.
Dawn Raffel’s Further Adventures in the Restless Universe explores life, human relationships, trailing conversations, memories and, of course, the restless universe. Published in 1935, Max Born’s The Restless Universe is a recurring motif of this short story collection, an example of which is above. It is a pervasive theme, gifting the stories with a worldly universalism and instilling in the reader a genuine respect for and desire to learn more about the world and the galaxy it’s in.
When I said trailing conversations, I meant a dreamy circuitous style that focuses on delicate particulars with a poetic intensity: “She had been raised to believe that any body of water was serious business—and also, the effects of the sun,” “I will speak for myself: there is no end. I am calling and calling. The candles are lit.”
I dwell on the dialogue because it is unusual and striking. In many works of fiction the world turns on the dialogue. Here it is the opposite. Conversations are picked up after years, after stunning distractions (“the dusk, she thinks, grows thicker as she rises. Outside the window the world is gone”), after asides, and breaks, and the invasion of the past (“My father is wearing a jacket older than I am, gotten in war”).
Many of the stories are short and well-suited for the Internet, which is something that charms me. With the advance of technology such things are important to consider. Longer stories bring the nineteenth century to mind, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is anachronistic. As such, the stories are at once dreamy and to the point; an atmosphere of urgency and peacefulness is evoked almost immediately. There is no other way to describe it. The book is a paradox.
My favourite story in the collection would have to be “Cheaters.” The image of night as a book (“Whole chapters are ragged, sticky, yellowed, and fragile from touch,”) acts as the fulcrum for the story, and it is an image that stays with you, pasted onto the roof of your brain so that you can see it with your eyes closed.
This is grown-up fiction written by one of the most exciting and complex voices I have read in recent times. It is a book I would buy for friends, intended as a gift of treasures; a book I will return to in coming days when all is dark and light is needed.
Official Dawn Raffel Web Site
Official Dzanc Books Web Site