How to alienate your reader and other adventures in experimental literature


I’ve been posting non-sequiturs on Twitter about Blake Butler’s There Is No Year since I started reading it and I apologise for that but quite simply it’s the only way to survive the novel. It is the strangest thing and I’m not sure how to review it or even how to describe it. Imagine if some excellent magical realism and some compelling poetry had an illicit affair in a cheap suburban motel. This affair was beneath them both but still somehow satisfying. Then the offspring of that affair in turn had its own tawdry coupling with a grainy, black and white arthouse film and their illegitimate and for the most part unwanted child was There Is No Year. I don’t know if there’s a word for that genre or even if that genre has or should be invented. Your suggestions are welcome.

I suppose the problem with writing something so off the wall is that no-one quite knows what to make of it. In the blurb another reviewer or author or someone has said he lost sleep thinking of when the novel drops and “American fiction shifts on its axis”. Which may well happen except, I’m not entirely sure who would read this novel. Everything about it says experimental, its prose poetry style, its undulating grey scale pages and out of focus snapshots in between the chapters. It is written in a deadpan tone, in free verse, collections of paragraphs across the page, tiny scenes, footnotes and single line chapters. Ideas and images are thrown in and out of the readers head, somehow forming a sense of growing unease molded around an unacknowledged sadness. It could probably do with being about half the length. Or maybe not, its hard to tell.

About halfway through Butler challenges the reader with the phrase “today the day was bruisy like a dropped baby”, and you wonder if the novel needed to be written at all, but then you realise that it did or perhaps it wasn’t and you’ve just fallen asleep and are dreaming. It reads like a dream or a nightmare, words jumble, images overlap or are inside one and other. It is deeply unsettling but somehow it conjures up the lack of community or connection in everyday living, suburban life in which the father’s commute to work gradually becomes longer and longer until he needs to leave home before he’s left work the day before. He sits at a desk in front of a computer all day and types into the light. The son, for reasons unknown, has started stealing knives and the mother, pining after a handsome lawnmower repair man, wants to sell the house and move. The novel is full of want and longing and forgotten names and unknown language. There are boxes inside houses, houses inside boxes, houses that are boxes, copies of houses, copies of people, copies of copies of copies.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I wonder if Butler ever thought that?

At this point I usually give a novel a star rating mostly because no-one does that and I like to be contrary. But I just don’t know. I don’t know how to rate this novel, I don’t know if it is a novel, though it says it is quite clearly on the cover. I don’t know who would or should read it or when or why. It is surreal and dense, I suppose if you like poetry you might find it more accessible. I don’t know if I enjoyed it, by a quarter through I had to put it down because it was creeping me out. By halfway through I was both in love with and disgusted by it and by the last page it started to congeal into some kind of sense but I wondered if the preceding 400 pages were really necessary. It might be an easier ride for other readers and if so I would very much like to hear your thoughts. I suppose it will stay with me for a while and by that measure alone Butler has created something new and worth reading.

There is no Year, Blake Butler: star rating invalid.

Read it if: this post makes any sense at all. Or even if it doesn’t. Please let me know what you think of it.

About leatherboundpounds

I am a Perth writer who reads plenty and thinks too much. Here are my adventures in literature, one page at a time. View all posts by leatherboundpounds

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