IT IS AWKWARD to approach the reviewing of a book that deliberately resists description. On the jacket of his new novel, For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers, where a plot outline would normally be, Ken Sparling has written: There is no way to describe the book, short of writing the entire thing out by hand. ... I do everything I can to foil the evil plans of villains determined to summarize and label everything they lay their eyes and minds upon.
Indeed, as is characteristic of Sparling's work, the novel is missing the usual handles by which a villain might grasp a summary; there is no surface to slap a label upon. Characters appear and disappear; the narrative is wildly non-linear; each paragraph introduces a scene, a gesture, a face, a train of thought, and then we are yanked from whatever world has been conjured and thrust into a new paragraph. Sparling, an agile minimalist, has stripped the novel form so bare that, after reading a few pages, you may begin to fear that you are faced with 117 pages of words, just words, with nothing to pin them down or keep them from fluttering about loose in the universe, divorced from meaning and denied coherence.
Early in the book, a character muses about his own writing, What if he put himself out so far beyond expectation that only the next word, not yet written, not yet imagined, could capture what was about to arrive? Reading this book, you slowly stop reaching ahead for meaning and begin to settle into the language, the sentences, the paragraphs, the carefully constructed moments, allowing them to unfold before you without anticipation.
It is frustrating to surrender a habit of any sort, and to see the world in terms of linear narrative is deeply engrained. However, the world is a very rich place, and there are many ways of looking at it and translating it onto a page. Non-linear narrative challenges us to read in a new way, and the challenge was a rewarding one. Without the force of forward linear progression, reading becomes a quieter, slower, more visceral activity. And in For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers, what remains, beyond the detritus of narrative convention, is a lovely, graceful, and sometimes savage thing.
This book hovers in the corridors of the daily, the average, the suburban, and Sparling's characters exist primarily in the most ordinary of moments, facing loss of all kinds âe" death, longing and the loss of longing, disappointment and quotidian despair, stasis: âe¦he felt a desire to get up and leave the room and find something to do in the world he'd left before he entered the room. There was plenty to do in that world. There were many responsibilities. Many reasons to be. He felt this stirring inside him to move. But he didn't get up.
Sparling's characters are thoughtful, tender and genuine. In one beautifully simple scene, we see a husband and wife in bed, the husband gently telling the wife that he knows she doesn't like when he touches her. I told her I wanted her to be happy and that I would like to be the one who she was happy to see, but it didn't have to be me. I said if she wanted me to go out of her bed, I would and I would wait and hope she invited me back.
It can grow tedious to read of the tedium of characters who are sometimes little more than strangers to us. And yet, For Those remains an elegant piece of work that resists the risk, ever present in experimental fiction, of stumbling into a sort of self-satisfied abandonment of the reader.
Sparling offers a means of weighing and watching the world, its beauty and its sadness. His words sound against each other and create a resonance that doesn't require interpretive interference, the thrust toward a conclusion. It's useful to approach the book as one might poetry. Sparling suggests as much when he writes, Words have no appeal one to the other in poetry, only the unexpected discovery that they have become one among many and that the accident of meaning looms, always imminent.âe"Rebecca Silver Slayter
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