And the Son Coughed Up the Son
There Is No Year
(Harper Perennial, 2011)
Blake Butler’s highly anticipated novel, There Is No Year, has had a controversial start in the criticism world. Baffling to many, those unsure of how to perceive the work avoid discussing it altogether. Recently called “a riddle,” the 400-plus page book marks the underground door opening toward the commercial world. Butler is a member of the first generation of online authors moving toward commercial acknowledgement; from a practical standpoint, the truth is, if you are one of the few writers who has gained some success in a similar fashion, you should probably thank Blake Butler. He symbolizes the crossover from underground to commercial, but he made the transition without actually writing a commercial book. Less about business, more about the writing itself, this book provides a separation point between writers’ readers and readers’ writers. There Is No Year is for the intellectual, for the poet, for the un-boring. An urgency conveyed in a slow drawl. A sinister novel strewn in sweetness, an underhanded hiss. Languid in linguistics, this book is a challenge to read—and isn’t that refreshing in a world of clearly spelled out, run-of-the-mill sentimental literature? There Is No Year takes work to read, a challenge not a moment too soon.
The son’s book contained all things...it contained a diagram of long forgotten burned or buried cities and how to enter through their last remaining eyes, how to stay there in that belowground and, of new duration, live…
The back story of the novel has only recently come to light in the press, and this back story is the context from which the work was birthed. Recently, in an interview, Butler opened up about his familial history, about his father. Both those who have known Blake personally and those who have read his work understand that this is a highly intuitive person. His emotional depth shines through in everything he writes. In his interview, Butler revealed the dark details his family deals with on a daily basis: His father was injured in an accident. He fell off a ladder, and hasn’t been the same since. Severely altered.
What There Is No Year does, among other things, is walk the reader through a family in crisis. A father who is there, but is not there cognitively; who is himself, but not himself. A mother who hallucinates through her stressors, made veritably anorexic by an obsession with eggs. As Bolaño’s Amalfitano answers to Duchamp, and answers to an emotional loss of spouse, Butler’s father figure, in his mental illness, has abandoned the mother, has abandoned the son.
Extremely dark, from the bowels of a man’s turmoil, the metaphors at hand are so pained that we the readers are in pain watching them unfold. Then we have the linguistics. Butler is Burroughs and McCarthy, ink leaking over waterlogged notebooks, interweaving poetics with literary sensibility.
We move, like a slow-going muddy southern spring, through 400 pages of terror in a Lynchian waking dream-life state. There is light. The light is in Butler’s astute understanding. This is a book about a family wracked with the pain the fates have bestowed upon them. This is a book about an inner war. This is a book about birth. This novel is an anthem.
In another room, a room without the family, an indentation grew into one wall—a new pucker wide enough to fit a wire hanger, a pinky finger, something lean—a rip someone could breathe through—a hole for seeing out or seeing in. The home went on in this condition.
We watch as the characters within the book ebb and flow between their pain and between realizing their pain. The times when the father is lucid make the times when he isn’t that much more painful to read.
The next time the father went to get the mail he found the whole box fat with caterpillars. They spilled out as he pulled the lid down. They were curled and brightly hued, some in a webbing. Some had hair as long as half a foot and fat as someone’s finger...Some were a color the father could not think the name of, though somehow it reminded him of a stretch of land for sale somewhere in Nebraska. The father had never been to Nebraska. The critters fell and wiggled on the concrete. There were hundreds of them stuffed inside the mailbox...The father imagined all the prior men in his dead family there in the mailbox waiting for him, destined. This was some kind of delivery.
Butler will later bring us poems that look like boxes, words erupting from within the boxes, talking outside of the father’s boxes, suffered in repeat, poems following poems, days following days. An influx of Fluxus appreciation. A writer with a respect and appreciation for art. The son births himself; our author is present. With this book, our author has birthed himself.