Ed. note: Blake Butler has been reviewing stories from Brian Evenson's forthcoming story collection Fugue State (Coffee House Press, July) at his website. He agreed to let us share two of them with you here. This review is for the story "Invisible Box." Another story will be reviewed next Monday.
At four pages, this is the shortest text in the collection, butted up against the second longest, ‘Ninety Over Ninety.’ It is compelling, amongst a variety of reasons, in that it manages to beautifully meld Evenson’s two most primary modes: that of the cerebral noir, and that of the grotesque humor, a juncture point between the two that successfully serves as a re-transition toward the emphasis of the first half of the book.
‘Invisible Box,’ then, coming from the previous story’s bent toward the latter mode, opens with the sentence: “In retrospect, it was easy for her to see it had been a mistake to have sex with a mime.” Clearly Evenson’s bleak guffaw gloves are on again, and hilariously, though quickly we find that this story is not meant to stay seated in the realm from which it comes.
The humor, amazing in its small punches of what-the-fuck (the mime is described as “…naked save for his face paint and beret and white gloves.”), quickly reroutes itself to more of the internal existential of Evenson’s other mode - a mode which, herein, again works to blur and disintegrate at the protagonist’s consciousness and aura, drawing her into a pattern of awful loops. Like others in book before her, she finds herself caught in a momentary small gesture that continues to haunt her (the mime’s inexplicable miming during sex that they are in an invisible box), opening another door (by closing in).
In four pages, then, Evenson shifts the entire trajectory of the novel back toward where it began, as if on a new leg of the same loop, around its central void.
Also important here is how the protagonist, as she continues to be affected by the haunting presence, losing her sleep, she begins “thinking with two different parts of her head at once.” This is a common element to many of Evenson’s psychically fucked presences - people operating on two (or more) modes at once, if often so far below their own awareness that they have no idea (or seem not to). The skewing therein, which leaves, in this case, the protagonist in an irreducible quandary that even the author can not deign to resolve, is also a great source of the terror and disruption that makes so many of his characters as memorable (and perhaps identifiable) as they are even in the face of their own lack of commonality with the reader.
That Evenson can, in such often cold and sickened twists of phrase, connect us to the blackest and most buried sections of our understanding of ourselves is yet another of his great gifts, and another reason why he is one who will be remembered in the manner of the sublime.
Another note about his endings, also: ‘the twist,’ as in: a surprising moment that seems to change the whole landscape of a story abruptly, has been a much maligned thing in the world of fiction. Too often it seems contrived and with a specific want for direction in mind. Evenson’s shifts, though, (I can not call them twists, as to do so would be to demote them to that ill state) - they work because they mostly do not attempt to change the flow of the story to somewhere outside, but in. The funneling of the energy of the story onto itself, as here, where the doors are left wide open, results not in an obviously contrived or bent up method for the new, but instead a kind of mirror affect, a door - like holding the story up to its own reflective face and causing the replication of the strange surfaces there embedded to redouble again and again, becoming more.
Blake Butler is the author of EVER (Calamari Press, 2009) and Scorch Atlas (forthcoming from Featherproof Books). His work has been published in Ninth Letter, Fence, Unsaid, New York Tyrant, Willow Springs, etc. He lives in Atlanta. To read his other reviews of each story in Fugue State, visit his blog.