In the fourth story of this collection, “A Guide to San Francisco,” the narrator says, “I have to admit I have never been as moved by the realists or the world-creating fabulists as I am by the pattern-makers.” If you agree with that aesthetic preference, you should read Damion Searls’ “What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going.”
The book is slim enough to be a fiction chapbook, with five first-person stories about writers, and relies on complex patterns and beautiful prose to carry the pieces. Rather than a casual series of events, a slow accumulation of acutely rendered details moves the stories forward.
Lovers of literature should lap up the frequent references to literary titans like Hawthorne, Nabakov, Gide, Orwell, and Fitzgerald. There’s also a good bit of Borges in some of the stories, with literary criticism about stories that don’t exist, and meta stories commenting upon themselves, and fiction not only mirroring reality but creating it.
Here are a few treasures that I enjoyed mining:
- “The trees drip with green: the air is too saturated to hold more color.”
- “[The angels] loom, like the buried first memory of a parent.”
- “Her high, thin gaze would sweep down from above her crucifix necklace or pearls like a frigid Arctic wind to cool anyone’s faintest interest in mentioning [sexuality] around her.”
“The Cubicles” chronicles the career struggles of a technical writer, and the deflation of expectations and dreams: “I no longer aspired to see my name blazoned on title pages, meanwhile achieving such fame nevertheless: my name on the credits pages of dozens of books, read by thousands, books explaining how to use a certain database or manage client ROI in a B2B e-business footprint or design a Customer Call Center (CCC).” The third story, Goldenchain, shows the rattling gasp of an expiring marriage during a trip to Puget Sound. All five of the stories bear of the mark of careful, deliberate thought about character and language, and give fruits to those intrigued enough to return for a second (and third) reading.
If nothing I’ve said has convinced you one way or another, take another look at the cover. It’s a stenciled car driving into a kaleidoscopic square. Yeah, reading this book can kind of feel like that.