“God is dead” was no celebration on Frederick Nietzsche’s part. It was a warning. Where would we find meaning now that the Enlightenment had rid us of the easy comfort of an unquestioned Lord? In 1942, Albert Camus attempted an answer in The Myth of Sisyphus. We recognize the absurdity but must imagine a happiness; “it is he who must give the void its colors.” It became our journey, our charge, our purpose, to provide the meaning. It doesn’t matter but as long as we’re here anyway, we might as well make it matter. 

 

I’ve never liked it one bit. Neither, it seems, does Dara’s unnamed hero (& very occasional narrator). 

 

“If his purpose is to generate purpose then that is no purpose at all.” (pg. 101)

 

The Story:

 

The story is a manuscript appeared on the writer Richard Powers’ stoop in the early to mid 1990s. The manuscript was The Lost Scrapbook, the first novel from the author working in complete pseudonymity publishing under the name Evan Dara. The story is a good one, as literary stories go. The reclusive author, like Bolaño’s Archimboldi in 2666, DeLillo’s Bill Gray, and even in the unceasing cast of writers, real and imagined, summoned in Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co. where he goes about defining “the literature of the no,” is an alluring literary figure. 

 

The story is the manuscript goes on to win the 12th Annual Fiction Collective 2 competition, judged by William T. Vollmann. The story goes it received one contemporaneous national review, an extremely favorable reading by Tom LeClair comparing Dara’s work to William Gaddis and was then summarily dismissed. The story is the famed critic and Gaddis scholar Steven Moore reached out to Evan Dara by e-mail to ask about the influence of JR, Gaddis’ massive 1,000-page novel primarily told in unattributed dialogue. This story is also a pretty good one. It feels specially tailored to spend the rest of its life performing as an interesting anecdote at parties put on by smartly dressed university professors. Evan Dara writes Steven Moore back. Says he checked JR out of a Paris library. Says he opened it once. Says he shut it. Says he didn’t want the influence. 

 

The Lost Scrapbook is a wonder, and despite what you may have inferred from the above, a completely singular work. It reads like driving across a long, flat plain, changing the AM radio dial, futzing with the frequencies. Thirteen years later, in 2008, the second novel appears. This time there are no competitions, no award-winning authors judging, no national reviews. The Easy Chain is released and distributed through Dara’s own press, Aurora Publishers. Then, in 2013, Flee, his third novel. A play, Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins, in 2018. 

 

On June 4th, 2021, a twitter account dedicated to “steadfastly supporting the work of Evan Dara,” announced Dara’s fourth novel, The Permanent Earthquake, was now available to order. Three weeks later the post has eighty-eight likes, forty-five retweets, and ten comments. The print-on-demand book arrived at my house two days later. 

 

The Book:

 

“Can every square inch of every corner of the creation be at odds with tranquility?” (pg. 40)

 

There is a permanent earthquake. “He’d heard that the island had long been plagued by quakes. Frequent they were, and ignored. Then one came and didn’t go away.” (pg. 29). We are on an island. There are Gendarme, payments made in florins, mouthguards, and waterspikes. Unlike his previous works, it takes very little time to acclimate yourself, as a reader, to the world. The hero sets out to find “the stillspot,” a possibly & most likely illusory myth of a place where the constant trembling stops. 

 

The world is broken. In fact, even worse, it is actively breaking itself apart. How do we find meaning? How do we find hope?

 

“His goal for the day is for the day to end.” (pg. 38)

 

It was a startling experience to read this as an Evan Dara book. The textual and tonal experimentation is mostly quieted. There seems to be a significant effort to inure the reader to the text. The things I’d come to love about Evan Dara’s writing were mostly missing and yet I loved this too. I loved this differently. I gnashed my teeth and bit skin off my fingers trying to figure how a writer, today, could not exist and also do this. I can also say with a high degree of confidence that I would not suggest this novel as a reader’s first foray into Dara’s work. For that, you must unravel yourself with The Lost Scrapbook or The Easy Chain. This latest work is firmly rooted in the tradition of the slim, serious philosophical novel. It stands apart from his prior work not only in structure, tone, pacing, and experimentation, but also, I would argue, in intent. There is little fun leaping off the pages. Very few games. It is a serious work tackling a serious question, shorn of playful adornments. 

 

“But if all is flux, how can he – his situation – be unchanging?” (pg. 41)

 

“He’d read you can never step into the same river twice. He can’t step, even once, out of his endless present.” (pg. 59)

 

The next five years in literature we’re going to be bashed over the head with talk of the pandemic novel. Everyone wrote a novel during the pandemic. Everyone captured the moment. There were a lot of moments to capture. It was an “endless present.” I cannot ask Evan Dara if he wrote this novel during lockdown or if he still lives in Paris or what he reads or why he chooses to publish and promote the way he chooses to publish and promote because Evan Dara doesn’t exist. That’s the story.

 

“He yearns to see what someone else who sees him sees when he is imperceptible to himself.” (pg. 132)

 

I see you as someone who still believes in literature. 

 

“Your goodness is never not received. It’s just not sturdy enough for this world.” (pg. 180, from a father to a son)

 

I see you as someone who wants to believe in people.

 

“What is morality if not behavior you want from other people?”(pg. 47)

 

I see you as someone who finds their stillspot in words and stories. I see you as someone who does not believe in a stillspot. I see you as someone who is looking anyway, because all of the other options are worse. Albert Camus began The Myth of Sisyphus asserting the fundamental philosophical question was whether to kill yourself. It is so supremely unsatisfying to imagine the answer to the question of what to actually do with yourself once you’ve decided to stick around is simply to pretend to enjoy rolling the boulder. In The Permanent Earthquake our hero earns his florins, like seemingly everyone else, by collecting boulders to sell to the estate. A sharper literary critic or philosophical theorist would connect these rocks. I just really like reading. But I do know this: most of our probing questions on how to live often center around what we might take from this world and from our brief time here and I see you as someone who is more concerned with what we might give.

 

“Your goodness is never not received. It’s just not sturdy enough for this world.” (pg. 180, from a father to a son)

 

Derek Maine is a fiction reader and writer living in North Carolina. He is on twitter @mainely.

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