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 golden afternoon light is elegiac and simple—the drugged amber of an idyll. The interlude of the wounded kind, the tubercular cough, the last harvest before the endgame starts.
It makes me realize that the Vikings really had a handle on sadness, even if the only way they could deal with it was by being continuously drunk in the afterlife.
This sentiment seems more poignant because I have just purchased porn.
Such is the narrative voice of Monograph, intimate and erudite, sprawling in passion. One moment we’re hearing about Roman law; the next, Virginia Woolf’s diary, the use of exclamation points therein. The Logos, Joan Didion, the aforementioned Vikings, the aforementioned porn, Pythagoras on how numbers cause both deities and demons, plus some sustained attention to the work of Raymond Chandler, such as how the ground falls out from all of his analogies or how “The best parts of his books are where the hero just hangs out in his office being metaphysically bored. The prose is at its most vibrant and alive then.”
Here is a sort of memoir—but think more Bernadette Mayer than whatever’s on sale at the airport—that seeks something of the same: to be conveyed in phrasing vibrant and alive, to capture something essential about that spectacular real through which we swim. So there is a cornucopia of tactility: pomegranates and dark chocolate and the love scenes of secret gospels, “spirit guides arguing,” characters that fiddle with their own personal formulas like Pythagoras made contemporary and shirking on the math: “E. talks about the Masons, theoretical particles, her new love. What they do and don’t have to do with each other.”
This is a gorgeous, chewy book, weaving themes in loose, long stitches, such that their accumulation, in the reading, feels almost accidental, like serendipity. Like Mayer, Berry here gives us an experience as well as a recounting of such. And, like Chandler, it’s just a little like a mystery novel but also with the strong indication that the mystery isn’t what matters, just the trip.
Official University of Georgia Press Web Site