Monday, March 10, 2008

Toby Olson's SEAVIEW

Just finished reading Toby Olson's novel SEAVIEW, rereleased by Hawthorne Books. Moreso it is a novel in stories, kind of. It changes perspectives frequently, sometimes midparagraph. It won the PEN/Faulkner award in 1983. Toby Olson has released 7 other books, including one collection from FC2. This book did a lot of things I've wanted books to do for years and rarely, if ever, found.



The main thing SEAVIEW did that I liked was that it mostly, through the first 3/4ths, was realist in its writing, though in a way not quite bare and stripped and not quite languagey. I felt relaxed reading his descriptions of rooms. A good part of the book is also about golf. I have never played golf, but the way he described it made me relax and want to write because his language is so tight and fresh.

The main thing, though, that he did was in the last quarter of the book, in which the narrative is disrupted. Things begin to occur that don't follow logical physical sense, and they are left hanging. Rather, they make sense linguistically but do not follow physical law. It's as if the scenery begins to shift and mutate under the characters' feet. This in the midst of mostly everyday and certainly physically palpable settings. The effect made my body feel less taut. It's rather difficult to describe the effect of this book because it is so rare. I think Julia Slavin is the closest thing to the effect of this book, but she is much more over the top than SEAVIEW. There were also many passages that lifted the slow soothing descriptions into rather Lynchian, yet not bizarre, mind states, as if the logic began to write itself. I'm having trouble explaining it because the effect is so serene and yet creepy and metaphysical almost at the same time. A kind of perfect mix of senses.

I really liked the descriptions of the men playing golf, which was strange because I've never played golf or understood it, but something about the way he was able to render it made me not only enjoy reading but want to play the game.

This isn't really magical realism related. This isn't really absurdist, nor is it realism or straight narrative, or any other kind of school of storytelling I can think of. Maybe it is like something out of sleeping. Robert Coover (who introduces the book) refers to a point in the book that refers to 'dream transition' which is probably a good term. This is a different book than other books. It is strange to me that I had never heard of Toby Olson and that I don't hear people talk about him. More people should read this book.

5 comments:

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

sounds good. ordered it from the library.

a section from a tom spanbauer book from the same publisher. i like that first sentence.

Bradley Sands said...

I like your description of the book a lot. You make it sound appealing. I read a little on Amazon. It did not seem like my kind of thing. I am too quick to judge a book by its first few pages.

I have never heard of Julia Slavin. I read a little of your novel on Amazon and liked it. I plan to order the book through my library system. I may have already when I read your entry last night and have since forgotten about it. I am going to check on that.

I just wrote a blurb for you. There is one word that I think I might have used in the incorrect context. I am tired. I cannot think of a replacement right now. I will probably send you the blurb tomorrow.

Adam R. said...

I bought this book on the strength of your recommendation. You ought to get them to give you something.

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

"He began to be able to feel the club head in the tips of his fingers through the shaft and grip and the difference in his right hand and his gloved left. When the club face struck the ball, he could feel it in the hair on the inside of his thighs."

BLAKE BUTLER said...

yeah that quote pretty much gets the book in it. good.