Friday, January 30, 2009

A Review of Fragments

Early one morning near the middle of November 2008, a group of Green Lantern faithfuls hit the streets, inserting a fake section of newsprint into the Chicago free weeklies. Included was the following review of Fragments.

Fragments is a book. Once that has been established (fairly easy, that) everything else becomes difficult. It could find its place in the fiction section of a bookstore, or the philosophy, poetry, or literary criticism sections. None of these designations would be totally incorrect, but they wouldn’t feel especially right, either. A novel lacking true characters and plot, philosophy without an argument, poetry lacking verse, criticism without an object.  The one thing each has in common with the other is likewise the thing they all have in common: paper, filled with sentences, gathered and bound, easily shelved. Fragments is a book.

Each sentence stands alone, separated by a quarter of an inch white space from the sentences preceding and following it—a more significant stylistic constraint than you might assume.   As an extra foot in a line of Shakespeare or an awkward rhyme in a sonnet may shake the reader, an oddly placed semi-colon in Fragments affects the text to a similar degree.

There are two characters, a man and a woman, both unnamed. The reader knows so little of their fictional biographies that they can be read as archetypes or even as mere abstract textual pronouns.  At the same time however, they have just enough personal characteristics to defy such a simplification (“he freezes at the sight of household cleaning products, she is a maker of lists” ).  They interact, but they do so at such a remove from one another as to render the exchange nearly meaningless. When “he” speaks, we assume he is speaking to “her”, but his words are isolated on the page. When she responds, if she responds, it is pages later.   Sometimes the sentences are part of this non-conversation and sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are ideas one or the other entertains.  Sometimes they are quotes they have read.  Sometimes they are thoughts they’ve written down. Sometimes they are exposition.  Carl gives few hints about how to discretely categorize and place a sentence, although after a few pages the reader may eventually come to realize that she can is intuiting who is thinking and in what way.  And each time a reader returns to Fragments, she will find a different book.

When the reader grows comfortable with the book (and like many great books, it is the kind of book that one must grow comfortable with) she will notice that, in many ways, such distinctions are unimportant. Or, at least, they are of secondary importance. Fragments is primarily a meditation on the sentence. The sentence is protagonist.  It does what a protagonist does in most novels: views and shapes the world, and is, in turn, shaped by it.  David Carl has done well to perform this interrogation of it.

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