Semiotext(e) / Native Agents Series ($11.95)
by Christopher Martin
. . . the history of a head is unavoidable being everywhere
This is the history of the head of Henny: estranged wife, surrogate mother, and mothering friend. If you add to this list her intensely religious brand of atheism, it appears, clear as ether, Henny is very much on her own. She is an invisible energy that suffuses the life of (and lives in) the book. Paradoxically, what is invisible here is also indivisible--"unavoidable being everywhere." As a character, Henny lingers submissively behind a backdrop of silent concern. Her function as a narrator, however, is to hoist the entire structure of the novel onto her brittle, uneven shoulders and deliver all the embarrassing facts directly to us, her reader/God. In order to insure the honesty of this confession, Henny pledges to tell an inclusive story without the emotional duplicity of what she calls "sequence":
Sometimes I think that God witnesses events sideways and doesn't stop because it all goes by so fast, and God can't believe what God just saw. So it is important to tell you everything, God.
Where there is "everything" there is certain contradiction, and Howe delights in using it to her advantage. Henny is a poor, pale character of little personality in an alternatively rich, flamboyant, and colorful world. Although she describes her prose as employing a "forced lack of style," she often lapses into hauntingly lyrical stretches: "Sitting outside at night was like passing around a razor to shave a zebra down to its first shape. The black sky is really a weight, can hurt, so heavy a dump of stars, some falling all turning together bare naked between them. God planted the glass that grew language." Finally, after nearly 300 pages of fragment, quandary, and moral debate, the action returns right back to where it began: the story of a woman, her mostly unconsummated love, and the children (young and old) that she has protected and preserved. Only then do we realize the full breadth and beauty of the narrative Howe has surreptitiously constructed all along.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2001 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2001