Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love and the Mess We're In

Two words to describe this novel: experimental and extramarital. The first because the book is a collage of text fragments, the second because the two principal characters embark upon an adulterous affair.

In Chapter 1 Clive and Viv arrive in Buenos Aires for their inaugural tryst. Multiple text windows predominate, in one instance mimicking the floor plan of a rented apartment.

Chapter 2 is perhaps the most innovative part of the book. It describes a wine-fueled dinner conversation during which Clive and Viv get hornier and hornier. There are no quotation marks, no “he said” and “she said.” Instead, Viv’s part of the conversation is presented on the left page of the spread, Clive’s on the right. Each page is also divided into two columns, one for speech and one for private thought. The conversation is not the polished talk of most novels. It is jerky and fragmented with the accompanying thoughts providing delightful subtext.

Chapter 3 describes their love-making in blocks of text suggestive of the intimacy and athleticism of sex. Sometimes the book must be rotated in order to be read. The chapter ends with a typographical climax.

In Chapter 4 the escape of Viv’s husband Tim from a mental institution is illuminated by the crackbrained constellations he sees overhead.

The final chapter finds Clive and Viv in New York, where the introduction of a new character provides a satisfying conclusion to the book.

If all of this gimmickry sounds daunting, it's not, thanks to the generous use of white space, and writing that is rich, honest, tender, humorous, and sometimes very explicit.

The National Post describes the book as “a tonic for readers tired of conventional narratives and inert prose.” The Financial Post finds it “akin to a text-based sculpture.”

You can read Stephen Marche's interactive short story, "The Missing Period of Lucy Hardin," at The Walrus.


Love and the Mess We're In won first place for its designer in the prose fiction category of the 2012 Alcuin awards.