Experimental fiction – Five Legs
Posted November 19, 2006on:
I am not very good with experimental novels. I have seen some arguments online about defining what it is and which books deserve the label. (Recently I read a writer’s (Danielewski’s?) view that all fiction is experimental.) The particular kind I have trouble with has irregular grammar: unusually short or long sentences, perhaps consisting of only one word, lots of incomplete sentences, fragmented thoughts and a disjointed narrative.
I cannot stand it. Which is a funny thing to say because I am not the most adventurous reader and so have not read a lot of experimental books. Waiting for Godot bored and annoyed the ever living crap out of me. I bought Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew at a used bookstore because, at the announcement of his death, almost every litblogger I read held his oeuvre in high regard. I enjoyed the introduction immensely but was stymied once I flipped through the actual novel. I stared in fascinated horror at words all done in uppercase stamped across pages and the crazy sentence structure and…and…it was all crazy. Crazy.
I placed it neatly on one of my TBR piles with a furrowed brow and a skeptical heart.
A new literary mission I set for myself–to mine the backlist of a Canadian publisher–had led me to Five Legs by Graeme Gibson. I chose it because it seemed to have some homo action going on. I am eager to read books with homosexual characters; an intimate homosexual relationship, or sexual identity issues and so on do not need to be the anchor of the story line. I internalise much of the world through books and wish for this part of global society to be brought into my literary landscape. (This comes with myriads of caveats and qualifications: I have to really want to read the story, I have to like the jacket copy, the cover and if it’s a movie tie-in, don’t bother. It is even worse if I saw the movie before the book and did not like it much. The existence of a hotter older brother marks it as DOA. The story cannot be too boring and conventional, sexual identity problems are a dime-a-dozen these days and if the masses have glommed on to what all ready made me “meh” it is DOA.)
What I am trying to say is that I selected Five Legs with the hope of reading a heated, fumbling scene or two of man-on-man bedwork. (This hope is funnier when you realise that there is nothing in the jacket copy that supports it besides the placing of the phrases “sexual torment” and “two men” in the same paragraph.) So it’s experimental, so what? I can handle “experimental”. I am a big girl, a smart reader, open-minded, curious and capable. The book is only 200+ pages, do not be a wuss and let the world of readers down. On to battle!
By the end of the first page I was oscillating between a compulsion to continue and annoyance. Compulsion ceded the ground at the fourth page. The one word sentences, the weird dialogue structure, the self-satisfied protagonist were, all in the same book, too much. Yet I did not give up. I reasoned that it was late, I was tired, I was fresh from Grandet and only needed a day or two to regroup.
Here’s to Gibson and second chances.