by Jaspar Lepak
Winner of the 2007 AWP Award Series in the Novel, Scott Blackwood’s first novel, We Agreed to Meet Just Here, tells the story of a small Texas town and the mystery of the lives that intersect there. While these lives are close to each other in geographic proximity, the town’s citizens are kept apart by private experiences of mystery, loss, desire, and responsibility. There is Dennis Lipsy, a lawyer whose clients “often wanted him to renegotiate their already-lived lives,” and Winnie Lipsy, his wife, a pediatric nurse who seeks reunion with the daughter she gave up nineteen years earlier for adoption. And there’s Odie Dodd, a retired government physician who is haunted by the memory of the Jonestown, Guyana mass suicide.
The novel opens unusually with the voice of the lyric “we,” which speaks collectively as the voice of the town. This voice takes the reader on a town tour, pointing out the tower where fourteen people were killed by a gunman, and where more than fourteen people since have jumped willingly to their deaths. As the pages of the novel turn, the narrative voice goes back and forth between the lyric “we” and a more personal third-person narrator, tracing the characters’ encounters with death, disappearance, theft, and abandonment as it marks the difficulty of human connection over the personal spaces created by loss and longing.
The tone of We Agreed to Meet Just Here is also heavy with the weight of violence. Terrible things happen to people in a town where terrible things are already carried in its collective memory. Ruth Dodd, the wife of Odie, epitomizes this; she expects to lose her husband any day to cancer but wakes one day to find instead that he has simply vanished. Likewise, Natalie Branch, the young and sensuous lifeguard, disappears one evening on her way home from a movie screening at the public pool.
We Agreed to Meet Just Here is not a story about redemption, and it is not a story about making peace and meaning out of terrible events. Instead, this lyrical portrait of mystery and longing functions like a piece of music—a sad piece of music that gives voice to a yearning that is both general and specific. The narrative voice alternates between the songs of soloists and the swell of the full choir. Blackwood constructs his movements like a conductor, artfully choosing scenes that echo each other, and in this way the novel’s sections play out the different sounds of the novel’s theme: “See how small a thing it is that keeps us apart?”
As they make this music, the characters learn to admit the truth about their losses: that the path keeps moving forward. There is no standing still, and there is no going back—even if the mind can trick itself into one of these illusions for a period of time.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2009 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2009