New Narratives

When we think of experimental fiction and what it means to write in a way that challenges form and style, we often think of writers like Kathy Acker, Ander Monson, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Danielle Dutton, Selah Saterstrom, Mark Danielewski, Laird Hunt, to name a few. As this form has emerged, it’s slowly become a viable medium in which narratives are compiled of frayed edges, blurry lines and unique style. This type of writing began to focus on fragmented stories, utilizing techniques and styles that echo modern poets and experimental texts. A movement called the New Narrative began in the 80s that gave voice to writers looking to give voice to narratives in a more experimental fashion. Initially, these writers focused on eliminating the boundaries between the author and reader as to identify with the physical side of the author. While some of these New Narrative authors were gay and lesbian writers, all who became part of this movement did focus on “new narrative” forms of communicating with its readers. Incorporating meta-text and sexually unambiguous descriptions of the everyday were par for the course in works that emerged as a result of this movement in writing. Authors like Eileen Myles, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy and Robert Gluck were among those who pushed boundaries with style and form and who are associated with such a progressive movement where writing’s concerned.Ugly Duckling Presse published Dodie Bellamy’s Barf Manifesto in the fall of 2009, which is a combination of two essays that Bellamy wrote for panel discussions about the liberation of form in regard to writing. Eileen Myles had written an essay entitled, “Everyday Barf” and Barf Manifesto is Bellamy’s response to that essay. Divided into two essays, Bellamy addresses some of the issues and talking points that emerged as a result of Myles’s multifaceted piece on “Everyday Barf.”

I came upon Lee Rourke somewhere through my connection at 3AMMAGAZINE.COM, and I remember his first book, (great cover) called Everyday, a collection of short stories. Mr. Rourke has imagined a world void of cliche or pop culture with his debut novel, The Canal,published by Melville House. It’s great to read a story free of modern trappings, hooks, and snares, but ultimately stripped down to bare bone emotion.

The story is told from the point of view of a man who has left his job and finds himself alone on a bench alongside a canal in London. Somehow he’s taking advantage of his boredom, actually finding some comfort in the discconection that’s come from quitting his job when he realizes there is no reason to go to work.  There is a kind of casual innocence at play here, and this man is almost regressing emotionally, taking in what’s around him, while the London he sees seems to be passing him by.  Often Mr. Rourke takes us back into the narrators past, reliving childhood traumas, or events from a life that is no longer relevant.  What’s most important to the narrator is the woman he meets on the bench, and her story.  Once these two characters cross paths, we come to know only slivering pieces of information about her, and from what I can tell, she’s completely unhinged and totally unreliable.  The story isn’t so much about people, but it’s more about what people are like, as humans, from the kids who taunt our narrator, to the couple that sits enclosed behind the glass windows of an office building across the canal from where our narrator sits. From time to time our hero sits with this woman he’s just met, and sometimes he sits alone, but when they’re together the emotional temprature spikes wildly.

This is a rare story told with a surgeon’s eye, it’s particular and peculiar, the voice is scrubbed of any uplifting feelings, and it almost drowns in its own sadness and deep depression. This novel toggles between what the woman on the bench has done, and what kind of life the narrator has lived, over the enitre story were given glimpses of brutal reality and stark beauty, sometimes it floats on the surface of the canal, like breadcrumbs to be used by Mr. Rourke later in the story, and sometimes its just life, as it passes by everyone, including the reader.  -JR