A recursive prose-poem contemplating addiction, dance, and the need for pathbreaking art.
In her latest, Fusselman (Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die, 2015, etc.) focuses on breaking with artistic tradition, and structurally, she tries to practice what she preaches. Though she doesn’t play with line breaks, she often deploys a one-sentence-per-paragraph method that gives a poetic aura to her observations—e.g., “Now my mother is frail. Now my mother is getting smaller. Now my mother’s bed is moving and she cannot sleep.” The author uses the object of the title—an instrument that sounds when struck—as a slippery metaphor for her art and being, encompassing her risk-taking as a drinker to Tchaikovsky’s open-minded approach to composing The Nutcracker. The work is interspersed with imagery of mice, cockroaches, bunnies, and tiny vehicles, serving as allegories of drinking, the author’s tense relationship with her mother, and Tchaikovsky, too. Well, maybe; if it all doesn’t entirely make sense, that serves her purpose just fine: “Why can’t more authors just abandon their lumbering storylines halfway through and move on to something more interesting, like dancing candy?” It’s not a hollow provocation: The best pieces of the work explore how The Nutcracker, now a drowsy Yuletide warhorse, was a radical creative act, inviting a rare dreamlike perspective to the stage, envisioning a blend of word and movement that, one interviewee tells Fusselman, died at the hands of the modernists. The author’s layering of her thematic ideas gives the book the feel of a mood piece—like a Steve Reich composition where riffs phase in and out—which makes it a pleasure on a sensual level. However, because she never lingers long on any one idea, readers may feel that there is much more to be said about motherhood, alcoholism, art, and physicality than is being delivered.
A curious and lyrical study that touches on many important ideas, but often only glancingly.