Saturday, August 7, 2010

Brian Evenson's "Baby Leg"

The literary magazine New York Tyrant recently published Brian Evenson's novella "Baby Leg" in a limited edition with finger painting by the author on the white linen cover around Eric Hanson's bronze embossed illustration.

After having just reviewed Charles Bowden's, Alice Brigg's, and Kelly Leslie's Dreamland (for the Summer 2010 Bloomsbury Review) -- a book whose troubled pleasures are made possible through the interplay of images and text as set up dialectically by the book designer, I was already thinking about books as more than places where words can be read when my copy of "Baby Leg" arrived.

Evenson's book of stories called "Fugue State" (Coffee House Press, 2009) was rich with illustrations, and even a graphic version of a story, by Zak Sally (see my post of July 28, 2009), so the "Baby Leg" collaboration isn't new. But it is provocative. A book on whose cover the author has pressed paint-covered fingers? Books already have a fetish character for many readers. This book is a fetish.

As the cover image makes clear, we're talking here about a woman with one regular and one baby leg, a woman who appears in the recurring dreams and perhaps recurring realities of the character named Kraus.

Kraus seems to be an unwilling participant in a scientific experiment run by a man named Varner. Varner's agents track Kraus down when he escapes, and search for him when he escapes again. Kraus is often drugged and has little sense for what is real and what dreamed, although he struggles to make sense of things.

Is Baby Leg his enemy or his savior? Is she real or dreamed? What is the relationship between her baby leg and Kraus' lost hand? Between the baby leg as fetish and the book as fetish?

Part One of the novella is called Then/Now, Part Two titled Here/There. And the story is indeed an exploration of time and space as phenomenological experience. How does memory relate with reality? What does repetition mean for time?

It's likely, I think, that the story is rich with careful and surprising answers to these questions -- that's the case in Evenson's earlier work. But on first reading I'm left largely with the questions, and the questions are more than enough until I return to the book with time and patience to let repetitive readings bring out patterns.

Meaningful patterns.

Empty patterns -- because they're simply repetitive, although meaning arises through repetition.

Patterns that mean that patterns can't be trusted.

Meaning and memory, time and place, sanity and insanity.

And, of course, fetish.

Baby leg.

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