Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Silence Once Begun

Silence Once Begun
Jesse Ball

Who is Jesse Ball? He lives in Chicago and teaches literary dreaming and the act of lying at the School of the Art Institute. And he keeps no engagements, delivers no speeches, and cannot be found elsewhere—except in hardcover and paperback.

I just discovered him this weekend.

Or rather his novel, Silence Once Begun, which sounds like a secret. With so many words, there can be silence. Words suffused with silence. It is the kind of work that send the reader into a Zen-like trance.

Most post-modern books tend to have the look and feel of a fast-paced video game with eye candy ie violence and sex to keep the reader interested. Not this one. Even in its questioning there is gentle indictment.

It might also be the only novel I’ve read told primarily in dialogue. Its approach to story is very intuitive, forcing the reader to read between the lines. It is told through conversation and the silence between words. I like a book that trusts that I’ll “get” it.

There are several elements that might be interpreted by a hater as gimmicky, but for me they worked. Just like the book Fieldwork the narrator also shares the same name as the author, Mischa Berlinski —yet the book is not non-fiction or autobiography. It is a journey that took me a whole weekend to unwind and has left me ruminating since.

An Excerpt:

The Mother of the Accused
I said to him, I said: When you were four, your father and I had a thought that we should perhaps travel to different waterfalls, that it might be a good thing to see all the waterfalls we could. So, we began to go to waterfalls whenever we had a chance. That year I believe we saw thirty waterfalls, in many places. We developed a routine for it. We would drive there and get out. Your father would pick you up. He would say to you, Is this the right waterfall? and you would say, No, not this one. Not this one. We went all over. There are really more waterfalls than one thinks. When he talked to me about the project, I said, I don’t know how many waterfalls there are to go to, but I was wrong, there are many. It was just the three of us in the car then, as your sister and brother weren’t born yet. Just the three of us, riding along. We would go down these tiny roads, past fields and rice paddies. We would have to stop to ask directions of the strangest people. But everyone seemed to understand what we were doing. It was never hard to explain it. We are going to see many waterfalls. And the person would say that that was a good thing to do, and that right that way was another waterfall, a very fine one, quite worth seeing. Then we would go on down the road, and pull up at the place. I would get out, I would get you out. You would go to your father. Then the two of you, the two of you would go to the edge of the water. Your father would cock his ear to listen, and you would imitate him. We didn’t have a camera, so I don’t have any pictures of it. But the two of you would listen to the waterfall for quite a while. Then he would pick you up and he would say, Son, is this the right waterfall? and you would say, No, not this one. Not this one...

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