As the title implies, there’s no linear, traditional story (or even a complete non-linear one, in the Vonnegutian sense). Rather, there is a mishmash of story fragments and internal monologues on a variety of subjects, along with a meta-story about the creation and consumption of the anitbook itself.
As one might expect, the quality and general intelligibility of the work varies from chapter to the chapter – which makes sense, given the presence of multiple “virtual authors.” At its worst, the voice is dogmatic, railing against some status quo from days gone by. At best, its vivid and horrific, as when the state of a woman’s face is described, after half of it has been sucked away by a pinpoint singularity.
A couple of favorite parts feature a mysterious child wandering around with her dog. The opening descriptive passages are superb: “A pale child wanders in the grass – tall grass – almost as tall as the girl. Her dog bounds ahead of her. The dog’s head appears, then disappears, then appears, while child’s head, a ghostly sphere, is constant.” Things bog down a big towards the end of this thread, when the child, does, or perhaps doesn’t, go to heaven or commune with an alien fog-bank or something, but the events are so immersive, and so beautifully described it’s easy to overlook the fact that they provide no true conclusion and don’t particularly make much sense.
Some of the lines in the story are so good that they’re great in their own right, and don’t really need context to prop them up. An example:
“She has no plans to do bad things. She has no plans to murder her dog or set her father’s barns on fire.”
This is awesome. Just awesome. It’s ominous, but in a contrary manner that’s like a shiv in the ribs that makes you bleed out before you realize you’ve been injured.
Another: “… because life is not linear. It is not a graceful series of arcs and intersecting characters. It is a soup. It’s a garage sale. It’s a garage sale, two months after it’s happened, that hasn’t been packed up, in fact.”
This, in essence, appears to be the book’s mission statement, and it’s a great one. It’s hard to make a statement of something as broad as “life” without coming off as hackneyed, pompous, or both, and the author manages it wonderfully.
And yet another: “She’s holding me, herself, and even Mitchell, hostage to a story she makes up.”
It’s a terrifically universal line. How many of us trapping ourselves, and those around us, in a cage built from our own narratives?
So… themes. What’s this thing about. Generosity, solitude, justice, religion, and trust, seem to weave their ways in and out of various threads, but to my mind no one theme dominates. Like a lot of litfic, the book features a lot of characters who seem to be exceptionally depressed and detached from the rest of humanity. Even a character who’s just undergone an epiphany and realized she’s destined to be author seems pretty fatalistic.
Okay, so, I like this book, I like it a lot. But, as I’ve mentioned, I didn’t like all of it.
At its weakest, the narrative voice turns preachy, and seems to be paraphrasing any one of a thousand women’s studies lectures. Correctness does not equal creativity, and there’s nothing insightful, evocative, or entertaining about the fact that the virtual author doesn’t seem to comprehend this.
One of my favorite bits is a one-off allegory called, “Sneaking Up on Respect.” Though a bit heavy-handed, it’s clever, and offers a bit of nuanced light-heartedness amongst what are mostly angsty or outright dismal tales.
Despite the occasional wart, the anti-novel is more sublime than insipid, and more than worthy of an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
(Backing this with a big old boatload of stars).