Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro, Part 1: 1997

October 19th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

This was a one-pager written for T.C. Boyle’s undergrad fiction workshop. I recently read this book again for his grad fiction workshop, fourteen years later, and while noodling around online realized there still wasn’t much coverage of what I suppose now qualifies as a cult classic, even if only because Denis Johnson has become a name more widely known. So, for what it’s worth: something another me wrote a long time ago. Be kind.

From the beginning the tone of the tale is established, prefaced by a voice at once worshipful and historical, incantatory and conjuring.  It is a raconteur’s tale, a pastime (“Can we help it if…we like to tell stories that want, as their holiest purpose, to excite us with pictures of danger and chaos?”), that disdains the drama of conflict for the drama of strangeness—the drama of steeping the reader in an alien, impossible world and in the heightened, minute awarenesses that accompany such steeping, such discovery.  In this Johnson’s prose does all the work, a detailed reportage; Fiskadoro has the structure of a chronicle—thus the passive nature of the characters, stunted by memory, defect, or the afterstate of the world, survivors and only that, semi-literate and uncomprehending, who are all acted upon; the gradually unfolding lineage, exhaustively described, of cumulatively enriching events.  In both Fiskadoro and Jesus’ Son, Johnson proves himself a master of conveying the lucid solipsistic event, circumscribing a dream, a nothingness, or a state of being past consciousness in order to illustrate its borders, to asecrtain its shape through its edges.  Whereas in his stories he achieves this through a series of spare, rhapsodic non sequiturs, in Fiskadoro he employs a dense exterior voice.  He gives voice to pre-verbal, post-verbal, even non-verbal moments, voiceless moments beyond cognitive process, feeling-states.  His characters are all prey to limbos that operate by their own incontrovertible inner logics, pose their own questions and contradict them, and resolve themselves without trace or echo.  A dream of several days’ duration, told in detail, disappears into a moment before forgetfulness.  Fiskadoro knows Sammy only by the name of ________.  Grandmother’s past, present, and imagination belong to an inextricable whole; several times, in the story of her endless days on the ocean, paragraphs chase their long final sentences in dwindling circles before swallowing themselves.  “You touch the people and they dissolve.  There is nothing left but you.  And you will not remember.”  The novel, like a fractal, finally replicates the structure of its paragraphs and chapters by being similarly hermetic, self-convinced and self-contained, obscure, cryptic, and impenetrable, opaque and perfectly stated, like a riddle, like the black monolith from 2001. » Read the rest of this entry «

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