Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), 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, forthcoming 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“Girl #1 has made her Facebook page private,” says the intimate voice of Gregory Sherl’s I Have Touched You, a voice that is often at once vulnerable and numbed, or desperate to be numbed, feigning numbness. This is a voice that claims “I’d rather pass out than fall asleep,” that says “Sometimes I want to fuck but then I realize I have to use both hands to open the condom wrapper and I don’t think it’s worth it”—apathy, in these pages, is a kind of defense, a withdrawal.
Alone, I play the same Modest Mouse record on repeat. It goes And I miss you when you’re around. I start it over, and it goes And I miss you when you’re around. I think Girl #1 thought about answering her phone last night, but maybe she was stuck under an anvil, a baby grand piano, piles of firewood not yet lit.
Whimsy, too, is a way to shrug off that urgent but ultimately inexpressible ache (“She is contemplating marrying a boy who never made her come”), that absence that is always around, lurking (“I haven’t thought of Girl #1 in like 38 minutes”). Our narrator, when he’s not staring at the ceiling or scamming scripts from doctors, contemplates the memories cell phones hold and wishes for hand sanitizer and shuffles from girl to girl, touch to touch, without ever really being present for the scene. “We make out above the covers,” he says once, or, another time, “She moans in my mouth, and I haven’t even tried yet. I’d rather smoke a cigarette.” With one girl, listening “to Iron & Wine in our underwear,” the narrator relays the fact that “My acne medication has stained her pillowcase, so she flips it onto the other side.” That stain, that banality of source, that response, that flipping over—everything in these pages resonates with emotion.
Music is a frequent reference, and, it would seem, a kind of template for this prose-poem work. Elliot Smith is central, not only in terms of lyrical style, linking the broken exteriors of the world to something too an unnamable interior pain, but also that sound, that rhythm, which runs under and through this book. “This is a soundtrack: a hi-hat coupled with a low groan,” and this is a piece about Googling the name of the girl you are in love with, not that such a prepositional phrase does anything like convey what you feel. The narrator sends an email to Girl #1: “I write I would pay to cook food with you.” Lyricism, like I said: not a word wasted, not a syllable put down that’s false. The soggy burritos, the semi-flaccid dicks, the lips that “are just enough red” but aren’t those of the woman you want—Sherl offers all of this to us, and “This goes on until it doesn’t,” at which point you will likely then immediately re-read the thing, play it in your head like an album on repeat.
Official Gregory Sherl Web Site
Official Dark Sky Books Web Site