14 April 2007

Concentric circles

On the strength of Bud's praise for Laird Hunt's novel The Exquisite, I picked it up while I was stateside in January, hoping to save it for a rainy day. In his review Bud quips, "It’s not as confusing as I make it sound, not, that is, if you don’t try too hard to make sense of it."

Very true. Read it for enjoyment (and the language!)--don't worry about figuring it all out. I look forward to rereading it because although I liked it the first time around, I know there are a lot of "echoes" and references I missed. I was, however, struck by the description of "an interesting picture in a brushed-silver frame":
Concentric rings drew the eye into a cloud of intersecting lines in the center. To get there you had to go through a number of color combinations: yellow gave way to green-yellow gave way to salmon then to salmon-gray then gray-silver then gray-yellow, etc., to dizzying effect. The smooth-edged somewhat irregular outer rings looked to have been laid down by hand with colored pencil, while the mesh-textured inner rings looked a little like they had been created with Spirographs, those grooved plastic drawing rings that were in vogue in my childhood, and that I used a few times at a friend's house, though it goes without saying that the results were nothing like this.
As soon as I read this, I felt it was the perfect visual metaphor for the novel (and not only because of the allusion to Sebald's The Rings of Saturn). By placing this Emma Kunz reproduction in the front room of Henry's first job, Hunt alerts the reader to the "wheels within wheels" nature of the story.

Elsewhere, Henry observes,
I looked out the window. No balloon came. No bird blew by. The sounds of the street seemed very distant. I seemed very distant. Empty circles within circles. Inertia clearly had the upper hand.
Henry also posits a "theory of two New Yorks," which Mr. Kindt "calculated became a dizzying sixteen million New Yorks if there was one of each for each New Yorker":
The one contains the other, I said.

The larger the smaller, or is it the other way around?

I don't know.

It is nevertheless a lovely notion, he said. All cities must be wrapped in a similar doubling embrace.

And all people, I said.

Yes, Henry, of course, we are all of us wrapped in the darkened shadows of our afterselves.
Later in the novel, in a chilling hint of minor revelation, Kindt the invader is invaded by an invader of his own--more circles leading nowhere. More references to the sadness that "builds like sediment with the kind of predictability that still manages to astonish, the kind that often ends by masking its original cause[.]"

But there is humor here, too. Henry describes an illustration by "fellow fifth-grader" Eva Grace Cotrero of "a moon lamp, a device she was working on that was supposed to promote healing by harnessing moonbeams." The book is dedicated to Hunt's daughter, Eva Grace.

As Matt Cheney noted,
The two main stories converge and diverge without explaining each other. They are echoes of echoes, their original sources lost, or at least distant, and so the echoes go on inhabiting the same air. This is a book so full of plots that everything that seems important also seems tangential. It's no surprise that Aris Kindt is a connoisseur of herrings; within the mysteries of The Exquisite, plenty of the herrings are red, but they're part of an entire rainbow -- or, to switch metaphors, an ocean of tributaries filled with plotting fish. No resolution is for sure, and every version of the truth tells some sort of story, with each story being as valid as the other -- the point is not the resolution, but the pleasure of the telling, just as the joy of murder stories is not in how they end up, but in the planning, preparation, and execution that lead to the end. Cut out all possibility of an end, and most of the pleasures still remain, while new pleasures reveal themselves.
As Hunt himself said, "The Exquisite doesn't so much call for readers to solve puzzles, but, in the face of multiple vectors of narrative, etc., to do some puzzling."

P.S. I believe I've found the Kunz piece in question--the 18th work of the online gallery slideshow.

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