A writer sits at his desk and… what does he write about? Too often, perhaps, he writes about himself, the subject seductive, ready to hand.
The protagonist of Tomas Espedal’s novel of sorts, Against Art, is… Tomas Espedal. Unmoored by his mother’s death, he begins to relate the story of his family, and his life.
He tells of his great-grandfather, his grandparents and his parents; their stories intercut; starting, stopping, restarting, repeating. His parents’ meeting echoes that of his paternal grandparents and that of his great-grandfather with his second wife. Other such echoes abound. Circumstances and character traits recur across generations. Males notice females hanging around waiting to be noticed. Boys long for their mothers.
Sentences and thoughts, too, are repeated, restated, often contradicted – sometimes within themselves: “Spring, autumn is the season I like most of all.” “I sit there waiting for her to come home. I wait for her to come home.” “(I)t’s difficult to write the word lonely but I was lonely, I wasn’t lonely.” The author is either too fond or too unaware of these perseverations.
Espedal’s descriptions of the natural world can be vivid, his descriptions of loss and despair piercing: “(T)he only desire I had was the desire to give up.”
Yet such immediacy is rare. Little happens in the present, little emerges unmuted by the filter of Espedal’s introspection. More typical are elaborate recollections of places he has lived, rooms he has written in, diaries he has kept; the book often reads like journal entries, or notes. There is at one point a grocery list, at another, a listing of the days of the week.
Against Art documents a writer’s effort to heal through writing; less metafictional than baldly, transparently, self-involved. Grief has left Espedal bereft; he tries to write his way out, but finds nowhere to look but back.
About the reviewer:
Since completing Naropa University’s Creative Writing Program in Prague, CZ, Laurence Levey has had fiction published in Cezanne’s Carrot, Art Times, Versal and Ellipsis, and was a semi-finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars-2010 Unified Literary Contest. His book review of Phong Nguyen’s “Memory Sickness” appears in Issue 15 of Drunken Boat, he writes for the Review Review, he was a Fiction Editor at Furnace Review and he contributes arts articles to Worcester Magazine.