The Age of Wire and String is, apparently, the “period in which English science devised abstract parlance system based on the flutter pattern of string and wire structures placed over the mouth during speech.”
“Patriarchal systems and figures, including Michael Marcuses, were also constructed during this period – they are the only fathers to outlast their era.”
I think this book probably deserves a closer read than I was prepared to invest on a flight from St. Louis to New Orleans after finishing American Pastoral and getting into a huge fight with American Airlines, who, subject to my dispute lodged with American Express, extorted an additional $600 out of me by inexplicably (one said “weather” another said “mechanical” I suspect “high gas prices” coupled with “lack of occupancy”) cancelling our flight from St. Louis to Burlington, Iowa, forcing us to rent a car and waste seven hours driving up and down Highway 61.
So I plan to revisit.
In the meantime, I like the fact that the actual form of the piece is undefined. The book cover says “stories”. One reviewer likens the tone to that of a “product manual.” The Observer (London) says “scientific manual”. Publishers Weekly calls them “fictions”. Donkeye on Amazon.com says it “isn’t quite a novel, not quite stories. In a sense, this book could be read in any direction, front to back, middle towards the outsides, etc. It has a hypertextual feel, to use a fancy word.” R. Abraham unf unf unf on Amazon says: “Novel in every sense of the word.” Most commentators just say “book”.
I personally think I would say that The Age of Wire and String is most akin to a poem. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens comes to mind. Although Wire and String is obviously a lot longer, more complex, highly stylized.
I have to respect and admire Marcus’ book for this reason alone. It adds to the collective body. It expands the horizons. And expands, perhaps, the way we might look at the world, or language itself.
But I am not so sure about the “suburban sublime” or “enormous sorrows” or “the human tragedy.”
I did sense, and have to believe, that it’s in there somewhere.
If you are willing to spend the time to concentrate, and put everything together.
From “The Weather Killer” for example:
When they slept, he poured oil in a ring. He watched from a distance as each body erupted and was silenced. He held the rag to the sun. No one survived. He returned home along the river. Years had passed. There was a house there. The people welcomed him and fed him a sauce. They had children who played in the sunshine. They asked him to wash, and he sat in the river. Another house was built, and a fence. Vehicles came along the road. Dogs rolled on their backs. At night, the rain was soft. Clouds emptied their bugs onto a hill. He wore a large shirt. The people told a story and he shouted at them. He killed a dog and was put on trial. A man with a beard spoke. The sun could be a tiny dot and it could be anywhere. He saw people hugging. The noise seemed to be coming from a piece of wood in the field. Birds hung in the air. They were white on top and flew in place. The scaffold was built by the gate. He stole glass and cloth while waiting for everyone to wake up. The sun made a sound. He heard it coming. He pushed the whole structure toward the river.
I am sure there is a lot in there. And elsewhere. To take another example, here is an interesting passage from “The Religion”:
The man activity looks like many other tasks. An overhead view shows your man in your choice of terrain, accompanied by certain fellow living creatures such as slow-moving children and older, less relevant persons which can do no harm. An occasional bald eagle soars overhead and fellow men sniff at you in greeting. Your man can run, walk, sleep, drink, eat, and, of course, weep and die.
Interesting. And yet I am not sure I really get anything “dramatic” or “emotional”. A lot of it, frankly, sounds like a bunch of gobbly-gook. Sure, some gobbly-gook is better than other gobbly-gook. But it seems like gobbly-gook all the same.
At the same time, what I appreciate about Wire and String which sets it a little bit apart (at least in my mind) from other so-called “experimental fiction” is that Marcus develops and sticks to a format. It’s not just “free-form”. There is a construct. There are (or at least seem to be) rules.
Of course, (and this could change upon the second reading, when I get around to it), I just don’t think that I like it that much.
Not as much as “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” anyway.
[To be continued….]