Thursday, May 23, 2013

Writing from the Darkest Shadows in the Room: a Quickie for Christine Schutt

Sebastien Tellier, the french electronic musician, issued a set of instructions for the way in which he wanted his first album, L'Incroyable Vérité, to be heard: with the lights off and by candle.

Nightwork makes a similar mood, except the light is made by burning the Freudian furniture and the writing comes from the darkest shadows in the room. The copy I read from the library came pre-highlighted with each of the favored stories in the table of contents accompanied by a highlighter star. Incest, frail and flawed mothers, women in decline, disturbed sons, and wealth. The sentences are mystifying, in places elegant in places vague. Admire the precipitous architecture of this piece of the first sentence in the collection and you'll get a sense of the spaces she's playing in:

She brought him what she had promised, and they did it in his car, on the top floor of the car park, looking down onto the black flat roofs of buildings, and she said, or she thought she said, "I like your skin," when what she really liked was the color of her father's skin...

As a reader, there's work to be done to track back the referent and attempt to sort through the strata of impressions to see if there's a core, if the narrator is in the car with her father simply preferred her father's skin and was absorbed by the idea.  Schutt gives us both, she doesn't let us off the hook, in the best of her stories here she asks us to carry the baggage for the narrators. By the end of the collection, I felt that shock, something big and ugly was removed and my body reeled from it.

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