Experimental Fiction. What comes to mind when you read or hear these words? For me they conjure up feelings of eager apprehension, similar to walking into a free exhibition at a small, untested art gallery.
Dissonant music begins to play. There is a dark room with a video installation griddled with distortions playing, but you noticed that odd man going in there by himself, and you perhaps want to wait till he’s done. There’s that kind unplaceable feeling of pressure. Â You must take your time, but it’s an uncomfortable place to linger.Â There’s all this space, or perhaps none at all, and nothing in the design lets in the air or the light.
Perhaps intense reactions of claustrophobia to books aren’t felt by everyone?
At any rate, I was nervous.
I Have Blinded Myself Writing ThisÂ is experimental. It clearly signals that by theÂ intriguingÂ cover, designed to imitate a private jotter, though inside the pages are far too clean and bright for any notebook I’ve ever met. I went gingerly at first. But then read it crashed over me, and I went with the text, feeling its heart beat red raw through the black little fragments. Then I sat it on my coffee table, sat next to it with the feeling it had given me.
The story (and a strong story it is) is told in small blocs of text. A woman suffers from a rare condition that causes her to lose a memory every time she breaks her epidermis – cuts herself, crushes her finger, knocks her head hard enough for a bead of blood:
I have a condition. It is like a fuse with a saber chats that waits disability
Easier to cut a hole in gray matter unhappy synapse punchdrunk
A wall than to break my skin soÂ past not in gait or movement but
It cannot heal. It is easier to cut a wholeÂ in a timeline of flesh
Everyone who knows wonders why.
The text is blocked out in a darker way than this and I have had to guess at some of the words. It was good to engage with the text in this way. To have to move the book around in my hands, closer to my face, further away.
There is more to this book than poetry-like entries such as this. There are longer pieces of more traditional narrative. Pleas to the reader to tear up the pages. Pictures of a juicy-looking brain, highlighted with arrows. White space like the gallery floor. And all with great humanity, stemming from the effect of lacunae on a life:
Time slows down and segments into separate moments. The despair that must be felt. Again. That Teddy is wrong. I would never forget Ben dying.
There is the fact that I forgot that Ben is dead.
Then there is a different kind of despair: Teddy’s. He has to tell me the bad news again. He has to see me relive. He has to pick me up off the floor. This is the way we live. How can I really hold it against him when he leaves? Is it unfair if it is true? He tells me he was the one to tell me what happened to Ben when it happened. Three years ago apparently. He says he went to the funeral. He will go with me to Ben’s grave again. We will put a pinwheel near him that would’ve made Ben cringe if he could cringe.
Ben, her brother. Teddy, her husband. Inside of her brain, a terrible condition constantly, blindly erodes at her life. The book raises questions that struck me deeply – are we more than our memories? What are we, when we have forgotten ourselves. She consults philosophers. She clings and searches for comfort. I think of those withÂ Alzheimer’s disease, the early stages. They family and carers who must remind them of the death of a dear friend, or that no, they don’t live down there any more. Â I wonder if I Have Blinded Myself Writing This would be a comfort to them, or too much to bear. I wonder how Stoner came to think up such a great title.
Yes I was disorientated. Yes I was eager, and tense as I began. But this book gave and gave, set things whirring, even set me to crying a little. An experiment is something that must be witnessed more than once to be recorded as successful.
In other words, read this book.