Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Butler, _There Is No Year_

I WROTE SOMETHING about this that is eventually to appear in another venue, so I will here content myself with saying the novel lives up to its anticipatory buzz -- which is saying much. It really does turn out to be as strong as it was said to be (in contradistinction to, I would say, Freedom).

According to an interview I found on an internet trawl, Butler decided to write fiction after discovering Infinite Jest, and Wallace's death is noted in the novel at about its midpoint, at the end of Part Two. This seems fitting to me. I haven't encountered a novel by a young writer this original, this ambitious, and this rich since I picked up Infinite Jest, going on fifteen years ago.
In that same internet trawl, I saw a couple of references to the book being perhaps indebted to Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. Urkgkh. I think not. Yes, there are the same use of unusual typographical and other design elements and the same conceit of a house capable of gaming the rules of time and space. But House of Leaves is a sophisticated horror tale, I would say. I gave up about p. 250, I think, because the prose is simply too gaseous to tolerate.

An argument could be made, I grant, that since Zampanó is writing an academic treatise with generous slabs of quotations from other academics, his prose needs to be as stiff and dry as cardboard, as Johnny Truant's needs to have a stoner's vagueness and looseness. But this translates into hundreds of pages of bad writing.

The prose in This Is No Year is lean, feral, cold, almost merciless. It remains austere even when creating its most outlandish, sensational effects. It is built to last.

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