“Now our unraveling for evenings and the columns of the replicating bell, a cord of child milk rising in pink glisten for the city lamp and making every person see themselves before themselves with tubes removed, the index of the body bopped with big sheathes of silver foiling, catching words where there were words, though there were very few…”
I panicked at the opening pages of Sky Saw (Tyrant Books / Dec. 2012), which are filled with this dense, complicated language, fearing Blake Butler would hold me hostage for the novel’s duration in a swamp of unclarified narrative, a poetic mire that, while beautiful in its bruising, wouldn’t lead me forward through a story. But then Sky Saw opened like the mold-blooms of his previous works, and there was a narrative to wrap my eyes around, and the book held me captive in a completely different way.
“She’d thrown the book into the flood yards behind the house more times than she could count—she’d buried it, burnt it, sold it, ate it, locked it in a metal cube—and each time the book had appeared again clenched in her arms while she was sleeping.”
Sky Saw is about language and stories, the books we can’t stop reading, the sentences we can’t stop making, how stories never stop birthing stories. And while Butler’s novels are always identifying with and extending this thread, Sky Saw picks up some superb new tacks:
Ever and There Is No Year worked mostly without names, asking us to observe the generic and omnipresent images of mother or father or child. Sky Saw instead uses named characters – a mother-figure, Person 1180, a father-figure, Person 811, and a child, Person 2030 – yet the names are unkind, allowing us to grip each character only while reminding us that we will never fully overcome the anonymity of these expulsive worlds.
Too, Butler’s use of language as a barrier is evident in his earlier works, books like Anatomy Courses (written with Sean Kilpatrick) that rattle our linguistic grasp at every turn, but in Sky Saw language functions not only as a threat, but as an invitation. The opening pages seem intended to push us away, to challenge our sensibilities, egging us into this city of exploding light, though when we read onward, move further into this moment of decay, of illusions, we are rewarded with a story that unfolds more graciously than we had anticipated, one tinged even with an unexpected and unique form of sentimentality, the need to find end:
“I could go on at what these days were but the truth is I am tired. Would you even believe me if I did? I’ve spent enough years with my face arranged in books. I’ve read enough to crush my sternum. In each of the books are people talking, saying the same thing, their tongues slim and white and speckled with the words.
“I don’t want to be here. I want to get older. I want to see my skin go folding over.
“Someday I plan to die.”
Blake Butler has an obsession with doors and windows and houses, with noise, with fathers and mothers and children growing within these doors and windows and houses, within this noise. Sky Saw is a new layer of skin, a new house for a mother and father to rot in, another shifting noise for an expanding child, a book as relentless and fiercely mutated as his others, another warping from a mind obsessed with the vacancy of identity, with the loss of living. Sky Saw unnerved me and then reconfirmed my love of Butler’s words, how he makes our own devastatingly torturous world real again by expelling all that we thought we knew of words.