Two hundred and some-odd pages of…something.
This debut novel by Philadelphia-based writer and artist Richardson won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest for 2015, for what it’s worth. For mainstream readers, it will be virtually unreadable. Written in some sort of flash fiction/automatic writing style, the book is essentially one long rant punctuated by untranslated Latin phrases, footnotes nodding to sources ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Bible, and the occasional reproduction of an abstract painting. Technically, there’s a plot: a 35-year-old artist returns to the city of his birth to care for his ailing mother. “Sick women live forever,” he bemoans. Other than those basics, the book is violently difficult to parse. Early on, our nameless narrator spits on a little girl. “I forget her name: a name is nothing more than a cage. She is the archetype stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, an ungodly urban ugliness and a tumultuous racial myth: black sloth.” Later, musings on art: “Squinting is god. It negates detail and yet proposes it. It reduces everything to simple geometric shapes, the building blocks of a good drawing, revealing only the foundation the very thing that makes a thing what it is.” Still later, the protective son: “I want to shield you the way I want to shield the virginity of my mother who has not yet consummated her marriage to death, for whenever I imagine her without her fold-up shopping cart, waddling up walks and wheezing with quadpod canes and walkers, with pocket books and packages and plastic grocery sacks, her body, when she tries to do anything for herself I tell her she’s going to fall.” The book is certainly unique in voice and style, but it’s also frightening, ugly, dense, and borderline offensive. Even the most challenging of transgressive writers pales in comparison with the aimless rambling at work here.
Technically a novel, it will make all but the most experimental of readers throw it across a room.