$9 / 165 pages / ISBN 1-928650-09-0
The climate of a very limited area, possibly even a small urban
environment, dependent largely on extremely localized influences
of site, soil, vegetation, etc.
The Penguin Dictionary of Geography, 6th Edition
On the acknowledgments page on the inside flap of Microclimates,
Taylor Brady cites a long list of friends and poets whose conversation
and encouragement contributed to the shape and substance of the experimental
narrative contained within. Specifically named are young poets and
fellow travelers among the San Francisco Bay Area new narrative scene.
In long epistles, in endless conversationsone can almost
hear them unwinding here, see the twitches and gestures that make
up Brady's remarkably rhapsodic stylethis writer has
slowly, but prolifically, enlarged and radiated outwards from the
poignant sweetness of his own origins.
And origins are really what Microclimates is about. There
is a constant tension between the pasthaunted with the
quirks and blunders and ecstasies of a childhood spent in the strange
glades of Florida, with its mini-malls, its lower- to middle-class
values, its suburbs, and its lush landscapesand the present,
which is resolved by Brady's fervent desire to communicate that past
to friends with all of its fragmented meanings, its pilings and protuberances,
intact. He has invented a marvelous language to do so.
Arriving at home as usual despite these flights of fancy, I asked
Auntie Terrible about the proper response to such a difficult situation,
and received for my trouble a troubling story about the sandspurs
she stuffed into her socks, a few more each day, until the gradual
diminution of her capacity for social action reached its zero point,
but with the conviction that this stasis represented retirement
and expensive relaxation.
One more name that leaps out from the acknowledgments page is that
of avant-garde jazz musician Anthony Braxton. But before getting to
him, I'd like to point out a key name that is not given here, but
that nevertheless overshadows this work, and is in turn overshadowed
or modified by that of Braxton. That name is Marcel Proust. Brady,
who once mentioned having read Proust prior to or while working on
some of the material in this book, has used the work of Proust as
a jumping-off point or a parallel text in ways that no other writer
of this generation has dared to do. Brady re-visions the rich pungency
of Proust's "memory novels" with one of his own, yet in
his text, while sensations still provide much of the impetus for the
long ruminations that burst out in a thousand directions, the aim
is not conventional narrative or even a mere re-membering of memory
Because, Brady writes, "The musics of Anthony Braxton proposed
with joy and clarity some of the possibilities for the overlap of
multiple formal and performative logics that the book hopes to explore..."
And explore he does. Open the novel almost anywhere, and you're bound
to come upon something perplexing in construction, ecstatic in tone,
and engaging in its unique and curious logic:
'Insect, discount merchandise, dismembered flower,' she rattled
on and on, building homes for mockingbirds out of these possible
names for what was loose inside her head. Everything was always
happening at the same time, so we saw each other dead as often as
alive, leaves blown to ash off trees blown down like shingles blasted
from test-range houses in high-speed film studies...
What's happening here seems to be a playing out of memory in real
time, day time, current time. That is to say, Brady does not transport
himself back to that hour, that day, that blade of grass in Florida
which he describes herein; he transports all of these hours, these
people, these expressions and blades of grass, up to the Now from
which he writes. He performs a truly daring feat of alchemy in the
processone in which the current "I" with all
of its intelligence and hauntedness interacts with an ever-changing
past through the body of an awkward pubescent boy. It's not quite
past, present, or future, but a whole new tense that Brady invents,
and if properly understood might be an important new contribution
to experimental narrative prose.
Along the way, his language, with its super-agile leaps of logic
that contort ordinary sentences into paragraph-length expectorations,
takes its cue no less from Braxton than Proust, and arrives at no
less surprising or impressive conclusions. Below it all, the particular
rhythm and style is Brady's own, and that's perhaps the most impressive
part of all. Here is an intelligence and voice that replies confidently
to those of these two giants, without ceding any originality to them.
And it sounds just gorgeous, like a nerdy Robert Duncan getting off
on long words but taking care nevertheless to move intuitively from
sound to sound, as in
'I think my family imagines the overripe fruits, gone soft almost
to the point of putrefaction and still suggestively tumescent, that
you mash so gleefully into my dull and unexpectant face, as props
in a ritual too otherworldly to script as the simple practice of
a man who comes to dinner and then leaves...'
Did I mention that it's often quite hilarious, too?
One caveat I have with this book is the structural hi-jinks that
begins with the text-as-image insert prior to the very first page,
reaches its apogee in a "missing section" between pages
62 and 74, and filters throughout the novel in extremely long footnotes
and asides that remind one annoyingly of David Foster Wallace. Others
will no doubt find this aspect of the book delightful, but to me it
got in the way of the linear reading that I clung to, perhaps mistakenly.
I felt that the structure of the narrative was challenging enough
to the linear, non-discursive reading that is the bad habit of many
a reader, myself included, without the additional MacGuffin of the
missing pages and all the rest. Yet, it will require many more reviews
to begin to explain the complexity of the revolutionary prose style
that Brady unveils here in his compact, dense Microclimates.