Saturday, February 9, 2008

TORTOISE by James Lewelling

I just finished reading TORTOISE by James Lewelling (Calamari Press 2008). It was a very strange book. I read it mostly on the bed or in the bathtub today. Saturday night. It was an appropriate book to read alone on a Saturday night. If someone told me that TORTOISE by James Lewelling was really written by another author under a fake name I would think maybe it was written by Gordon Lish. TORTOISE has a lot of short, looping sentences. Fragments from some sentences show up in other sentences as a continuation of the same thought refracted. The sentences are often short and very logical and convey a specific meaning, even in settings where the 'real' is subdued. As in: there is very much an absurdist undercurrent to this book. Things happen that can not happen, but all delivered in a very even, clear voice, which makes it very pleasant to read.

I read TORTOISE with a little slip of paper as a bookmark so that I could note sentences or sections that I like. Usually I just write straight in a book, but Calamari's books are so beautifully made that I can't bring myself to do that to them. So the bookmark: instead of taking notes the way I usually do (which varies, but often I write out things I would say if I were going to review the book, 'snippets' or something, because usually the only reason I take notes is to review) for TORTOISE I found myself writing down 'ideas'. The main trajectory of this book is about a man who gets on a plane to go visit a man and woman in an unnamed country. He sits in places and thinks about things. Each place he is in triggers things he remembers, which range from very common to very weird. There is a lot of thinking in this book. Here are some of the things I noted that were 'thought' about, as listed on my bookmark:

insomnia pp 54-55 (I started my notes late, I had no pen)
sick babies 60-61
age and sanity 93
pissing money 95 ("You work all day and piss your money away at night and then get up in the morning and make some more.")
two people in one 99
father's head 102
doppelganger 106-107

The book ended on page 124. The ending was very strange and somehow soothing. I don't want to talk about it.

As you can sort of tell, this book is about death. Every book is about death in a way but this book seems about being alone and confused in a small claustrophobic space while dying without knowing you are dying. This book is clean and nice to read.

It being Saturday night, almost midnight, and with TORTOISE on the desk next to me, with the weird orange and blue cover and the little box that you don't always notice is there, I feel very contained by the lines of the room. I feel like the room is buzzing a little and my body is not buzzing. There is a desk calendar on the desk and I can't believe what day it is. In the middle of reading TORTOISE I sat down and tried to write something short and abstract about becoming someone else and when I was finished I deleted it without reading it again even though I felt like what I had written was true. You need to do that sometimes, maybe, I think.

You should buy this book.


Ken Baumann said...

I like this review.

Prathna Lor said...
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