SPELLS by Peter Rock


A Novel Within Photographs
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A novel that was created by the author in response to a selection of images taken by five photographers from around the country.

A fascinating endeavor, documented at spellsproject.com, this is the book version of a project that has also been presented as a multimedia installation at an art gallery and in addition might become a film. Rock, a novelist (The Shelter Cycle, 2013, etc.), wrote to five different photographers asking them to send him images, then spun his own characters and plot from the connections he made among them. Parts of what results can seem like dreams, fantasies, fairy tales, or hallucinations, though the plotline itself is fairly clear and straightforward. Alex and Sonja, who have known each other since second grade, have arrived at an age of sexual awakening. Or at least Alex has, as he confesses his desire for Sonja to her friend Naomi, who lives in the house where her grandmother recently died. Sonja seems to feel drawn to Naomi more than she is to Alex. So, there is that triangle of relationships, interrupted by two strange occurrences—an older man in a suit becomes obsessed with Naomi, after dreaming about this young woman he had yet to encounter in life, and he confesses to Alex that he's been stalking her. (The man also carries on a conversation with a stranger via notes exchanged by carrier pigeon.) And Naomi’s grandmother has decreed in her will that Naomi will take a voyage to who knows where for who knows how long, leaving Alex and Sonja to share the house she has left. There is also an “I” who may not necessarily represent the author, a “you” who stands for Naomi, and a pair of bears who may or may not exist beyond the minds and fears of some characters but whose images have been captured on film. “The images are not merely illustrations for a pre-existent story, then, but the conditions and possibilities and limitations of how the storytelling preceded,” the author explains in “A Preface of a Sort.” “The images came first. One way to think of it is that the stories herein, and the larger story they become, were already embedded in the photographs.”

The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.

Pub Date: May 9th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61902-900-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2017


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