Fifteenth in the order of stories in Brian Evenson’s Fugue State (out now from Coffee House Press) is ‘Life Without Father,’ which originally appeared in Lit.
In so many of the stories in Fugue State, the power has laid not in the saying of the thing itself, but in the circling of that saying. Elucidating the black center by describing it in relief, as it is a center that can not be described, thus its horror.
In ‘Life Without Father,’ however, it is no longer as much the circling of the unsaid, as the face of the unsaid thing itself. In handling a situation wherein there is a very clear emotional response to be intoned in any reader (specifically, a daughter dealing with her father’s peculiar death), Evenson evokes a further response by, rather than stoking the gross layer, inverting it, entering the unsaid.
This kind of tension has been used to great ends in horror films rather extensively⎯the thing the audience can see but the persons on the screen can not⎯but here it is allowed a rather different kind of intoning, as the unsaid comes from a blank spot in Evenson’s protagonist, as the daughter can not quite explain the condition of her father’s death⎯nor can the reader. There is an emotional distance, then, which in its revolving around the hazy and terrifying approach to death (as laid bare and gruesome in the first graphs of the story), becomes more volatile by having no volatility at all.
What is odd about the function of this kind of ununderstanding in ‘Life Without Father,’ is that in its function in the characters’ lives, it opens in them a unspeakable clarity, a “new period of… existence, a step closer to… death” (144). Thus, in the sort of circling and continuous unreckoning of the blank spaces of the previous stories, there is a smaller, calmer kind of awakening, which in its manifestation becomes inexplicable, and thus ends the story here itself.
The result is again rather Bernhard-ian, making the repeated phrase “Correction,” here in the story used as a demarcation of the shifting of the mind between new modes, an embedded homage, both directly in the naming, and in the taut and seemingly harmless manner of circling a great horror than Evenson so aptly wields to shape the blank.
Further Bernhardian method is used here to great ends, in the face of the unreckoning, by resorting to description of minute, seemingly mundane details to distract the reader from what is looming on its face. As in: here, in seeing her father’s strange, inactive manner of moving into death, and into clarity, the daughter focuses on making hashmarks in her school book for each time she alters his body, paying close attention to the count, a number that she will then revisit as the nature of that death is called into question, opening her own door into herself.
In the course of the stories here in Fugue State we are entering the tunnel out of the book, as it were, a point which, in folding against the first half of the book seems to mirror the beautiful, quiet but unnerving moment of ‘Girls In Tents’ that we wormed through on our way in. In a way, it is even more unnerving realizing that this story, which in most any other book would seem violent and revolting, here seems a moment of breathing in⎯which in realizing that realizing makes me think again of all I am breathing in among this reading, and in this very room where I am sitting with the book unable to see behind my chair.
It is in such ways that Evenson’s books are not books at all, or even books within books⎯they are weapons, they are tools and tunnels.