Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008) and the forthcoming critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2010). An instructor at Loyola University, Chicago, Dew also reviews books for Rain Taxi Review of Books and art for Newcity Chicago. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
To send your new book to decomP for possible review, see our guidelines. To find out what’s currently under consideration, visit our review queue.
Composed of twenty-eight segments, each slanting toward some larger, implied narrative, Not Blessed repeats and repeats a story of a boy and a woods, a road, a policeman. We glimpse back, with the protagonist and sometimes narrator, at a formative day, there by the woods his grandmother had forbidden him from entering, there were two roads run parallel, and perhaps another boy appeared, then a policeman. But fictions accumulate like spring rain, pooling, reflecting. We know the man goes on to achieve some notoriety thanks to business and war, but we’re left unclear on how, and on what happened that day, with the policeman, something slung over his shoulders, something gathered up in his arms.
We see the man, grown, “at his desk,” assembling “the various documents he would need for the day.... On more than one occasion he was certain that someone was watching him through the window. When he felt this way, a cold chill would run through his body. But he’d made it a rule to never turn around and look.” Likewise, his grandmother had made it a rule never to enter the forest, yet he ended up, sobbing, hidden in a hollow log, back on that fateful day that somehow changed everything, determined who he was to be. “He wanted to say that the past was better than the present, but that would have been too easy. Still, the phrase continued to haunt him.” The past, too, haunts this man. The role of the past in his consciousness is “something like a mosaic,” which, indeed, is what this little book is, too. “To this day, I do not know if the policeman understood my anger. I was so young then, at that point.” Yet this anger—in hindsight, at least—becomes a motivation. The bulk of the text is a story stuck to, compulsively, obsessively, like a guilty boy in the back seat of a police car. “He himself would grow up and become a relatively prominent figure.”
“How could the policeman not know who he would become.” “My name would eventually bring the village its first measure of notoriety.” “I would, in fact, grow up and become a relatively famous man. I would, in fact, bring the village its first measure of notoriety.” “He would, in fact, give the village its first measure of notoriety. How could the policeman not know who he would grow up to become.” “At first the boy was grateful for the policeman’s attention, and then he was angry. He vowed that he would never let himself be humiliated in that way again. How could the policeman not have recognized him when he was destined to grow up and bring the village its first measure of notoriety.”
Such repetition picks up speed at points, and there is the teasing hint of breakthrough, rupture, represented in another repeating tale, a fragment of a story about a hunter who, returning to his family’s home, strides straight through the living room’s picture window. “There are forces in the world,” that bind us, that force us to follow, as surely as any police. The boy, that day, experiences relief, then anger. We, daily, experience tragedy, then farce. “He would have to lie about what had happened that day in the forest.” This book is that lie, told and retold, believed and unbelieved.
Official Les Figues Press Web Site