fulfilling my 2019 goal to read (at least) one book each month that has been digitally moldering, unread, on my NOOK for years and years and years.
i think i would have liked this more if i had read it a) many years ago (probably when i first bought it as a physical book BEFORE i re-bought it as an e-book) and b) if i had read it under better circumstances with fewer distractions and a calmer brain.
steve erickson is not an author you want to be reading when you are in a distractible headspace. it’s not that he’s difficult to read, but he is very detailed; juggling multiple narratives and timelines and permeable realities featuring parallel lives/worlds/experiences, all of which occur in some zero-gravity chamber where alt-history meets near-future and anything is possible and unless you are an attentive, scrupulous reader, it’ll all fall apart and you’ll be able to follow just enough to discern the outlines of what you know you’re not following.
all of the above “you”s are “me”s, of course. maybe the you that is you could read this on a beach during spring break and follow it perfectly. my brain is more easily undone, and between the professional panic of encroaching deadlines and the social and FOMO panic associated with BEA-planning and the terrible decision to read this during BEA, in lines and on the subway home, exhausted by the highs and lows of convention center sprinting, my immersion was compromised.
you try reading sentences like this:
It had found an ideal host in Sally’s purity, which was as marked by chaos and desire as it was devoid of guile or malice, the pure folly of a will for transcendence that at the same moment never understood the nature of what was to be transcended…
while excitable booknerds chatter all around you and your brain keeps worrying that the crawl of this line is going to complicate getting to the line for the next book on your 6-page BEA plan and what if you miss out on getting a BOOK?
it can be hard to focus.
this is my sixth time reading erickson, and even though i didn’t read this one under the best conditions, i am completely confident that it is a tremendous, genius-level accomplishment: the quality of his writing, his imagination, the winky metafictional flourishes and millennial anxiety <— by which i mean erickson’s preoccupation with the millennial era, before this word referred to a whole batch of people. i have a feeling millennial people would have some opinions about some white dude writing about slavery and sexual politics and the power dynamics between men and women and slaves and masters and his returning to the linguistic well of whiteness and blackness and a woman’s genital vacancy and they would probably express their opinions about these things with great conviction and outrage.
i will only express my opinion that some of the erotic bits were perhaps a bit histrionic:
Just as the white ink of my loins has fired the inspiration that made it, so the same ink is scrawled across the order of its extinction. The signature is my own. I’ve written its name. I’ve called it America.
some of the symbolism is clunky, but it doesn’t really detract from what i love about erickson—that moment when all the loose threads start connecting—that shiver of dawning recognition as isolated images recur, timelines tighten, characters’ motives begin to reveal themselves in a narrative striptease.
as for fleurs d’x, the actual strip club in the novel, it is the perfect lynchean cherry on top—every sequence that takes place here is fraught, suspended, portentous, irreal in the best possible way, and inspires an observation that is a pretty good encapsulation of how it feels to be in erickson’s world.
That was the secret of Fleurs d’X, Wade told himself, sipping his third, well maybe it was his fourth, whiskey: that you believe, as you step into doors that are entrances or doors that are pictures of doors, that you’re stepping into the dream of Fleurs d’X until one night, your lucky night, you understand you’ve been stepping in and out of your own dream all along, and that everyone else was stepping in and out of your dream as well.
i loved many things about this book, but between a) and b) i’m trapped in the middle. but don’t worry—i have several MORE of his books languishing on my NOOK.
here’s to a clearer head next time!