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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Life during wartime: this novel follows two titular fellows through paranoid perambulations, interior and exterior, through Indianapolis or some version of it as well as through their own associations and anxieties, the relentless churning of their minds. First, Pike, evaluated by medical professionals and, thus, objectified, quantified, reduced via standards of assessment and a military logic that requires basic working minimums from the bodies it depends upon and regularly destroys. Second, Bloom—nodding to Joyce—dissecting his own stream of consciousness, second-guessing his own analysis of events or non-events as they unfold, like his disappointment that he’s merely waved through by a guard, undeserving even of suspicion, unremarkable to the security apparatus. For Bloom, such neglect accumulates in a deep weariness, an exhaustion at “all the daily animal maintenance . . . infantile small talk and dogmatic proclamations with nothing in between,” which is rendered somehow exhilarating via his nonstop commentary thereon. Pike and Bloom as two tokens of resistance is one way to read them, each character a reaction to the alienating bureaucracies of the military and medical industrial complexes. They weave their way around doctors and recruits, pharmaceutical company reps, and the War Memorial. Pike’s memory is thick of romantic renderings of other wars—Marlene Dietrich, yellowing novels—and he at times is “amazed that he has avoided immediate and complete destruction, amazed that he is alive at all and that the function of his body, the function of the city, doesn’t arrest at any given moment, or that it ever began working in the first place, during a war....” Saint Jude and General Petraeus are canonized here together as saints of the Forever War. Bloom relishes his anonymity, or the belief in anonymity (sometimes he gets called out for his cover stories, the white lies he spins to leave work early), and for all his internal overthinking, his actions in the world are largely “To wait and swallow and hesitate” as the human drones buzz all around him. Each man functions as something of an invisible eyeball for the city, Indianapolis, here presented with touches of Albert Speer, “a gothic city—obstinate, generous, savage, changeful—bathed in blues and yellows, whites and grays—rigid, redundant, mongrel, rude,” such that it seems distinctly not our Indianapolis, but nonetheless is recognizably in and of our world, the dystopian dial cranked only slightly, a notch or two, which is just enough to make us, as readers, start thinking along the same lines as these protagonists. How tenuous the world is, how unlikely the simplest encounter and overlap, how easy it is to get lost in flights of thought, in wary consideration. “There is nothing like another’s faith in you to make you cower, Bloom thinks,” and, a few sentences later, he opines (to himself) how it is always “better to treat the opinions of others with suspicion . . . to reel backwards from any expression of encouragement and fold to any true criticism—to strike the delicate balance between lying and being lied to slant wise—lying to oneself—discursively avoiding the issue at hand and distributing all that needs be done to someone much more capable than oneself and what should be done to the ever expanding bank of things to do.” Consider that thought, in the context of a novel where the rhetorical question tripping off certain pub-loosened tongues is “what would General Petraeus do?” Nye’s interest isn’t wartime, per se, but the darkest consequences of an economy of unending conflict. Pike and Bloom are plodding around in a world recognizably like our own, just tilted a bit into one possible future. The resistance they offer is slight, but it is something, unlubricated cogs in a fascist machine, catching a bit, groaning as the wheels turn. Some time spent in their company, and thinking through their situation, seems, increasingly in these days, worthwhile.
Official Lake Forest College Press / &NOW Books Web Site