Sep 2, 2011
This little book, Event Factory by Renee Gladman, has been haunting me for over a month now. “Write about me,” it says, and although I’m afraid to open it back up—putting it in my bag, on top of the closest stack of books, even holding it in my hands—I know that, at some point, I’ve got to address the dystopian city of Ravicka. Why am I afraid?
With each turn of the page I had no idea what was going to happen next, but not because anything was really happening; the narrative is strung together with a sort of whimsical indifference to story, following a lost traveller through an ever-shifting cityscape just as it’s being ravaged by some mysterious epidemic. People are nearly nowhere to be seen and when they are encountered they hardly resemble anything we would consider human, instead as mysterious as the yellow sky that permeates the buildings there.
The city is elusive; the more we plunge into it, the deeper and less tangible it becomes. Each character we meet speaks sparsely, as though afraid to define the moment at hand. “I wanted to experience the muscularity of the present diminishing in me as it was replaced by a past I never could have known myself.” Strange lands. As we observe our narrator attempt to adapt to customs both strange and unfamiliar we are reminded how peculiar and undefined humanity is and how much of our experience we take for granted. Abandoned here is common language used between people to ground them together, two balloons tied to a post twirling into conversation (What’s up?) that does not bring them together though they are brought together physically; physicality in this book is as amorphous and ambiguous as that entire below-the-surface life we find so hard to address.
Maybe this is why:
What words besides “old” and “extraordinary” can I use to describe life there? And were I to write the description in the language of these hidden people what symbol would I use to represent air? You would want to listen to this language. I am sure of this, because to hear a person speak in gaps and air—you watch him standing in front of you, using the recognizable gestures—opening the mouth, smiling, pushing up the eyebrows, shrugging the shoulders—and your mind becomes blank as you try to match this with the sounds you hear. An instinct says tune it out, but something deep within fastens your attention. Your mouth falls open. You taste the strangeness; you try to make the sound with your mouth. That is speech. Now, how do you do this in writing?
“Dar,” I said to her after completing this thought.
Event Factory is an utterance out of the speechless cognition of an imaginary society within the halls of Realization. Hello, I said. And you were not sure how to answer.
This is a quality object*, the type you can expect to find at Press Works, where Howard Junker purchased it and then gave it to me. It’s a new shop in the Outer Mission that specializes in treasure tomes and bookbinding—they offer affordable classes there and have events, such as this one with Diana Salier, Lizzy Acker and Fia Maxwell on Sept 22. Go early and scope the treasures; they accept gold and cold hard cash (and major credit cards, I’m sure of it).