**Note: this entry will spoil the first half of The Lost Scrapbook, so if you’re interested in reading it you probably should stop reading here.**
I’ve been reading The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara this week. I’m about halfway through.
I should make a small note about how/why I got interested in reading the book – and how I learned about Evan Dara – at all.
Last week I woke up one morning and checked Twitter and, infolded among the inferno of current events, all the reports and laments and rage there was this post from Biblioklept about Dara’s work, itself instigated by a post by another blogger, Daniel Green, an essay on Dara’s work.
I didn’t read either post, just glanced over them. I read enough to convince myself that I had to check out this writer, like, now. It’s not often I learn about a new (to me) author who seems to be working in ways that are precisely my shit – or at least in ways adjacent to my shit.
And it could’ve been that specifically, or it could’ve been just an injection of excitement into my current, general violin string-taught state, but I was immediately catalyzed and deeply convinced I had to find and buy The Lost Scrapbook.
Which I did, along with the rest of Dara’s output. I decided I would read The Lost Scrapbook without reading another word about it. Thus it would be one of the very few times in my literary life where I wasn’t bearing some burden of other peoples’ thoughts as I started a book.
I did read the blurbs, though. There are so many breathless blurbs in the front of my copy of the The Lost Scrapbook. I worry that, even though I purposely went into this book knowing almost nothing about it, they colored my opinion somewhat. It’s hard, today, (for me anyway), to negotiate all the way towards a text without being corrupted by some piece of outside information – even if it’s merely the context of an account I like tweeting about it.
It may be impossible to come to something completely uncontaminated now. Maybe it always was.
But anyway, in those blurbs on the flyleaf of my copy of The Lost Scrapbook, it’s intimated that the book is “experimental.” There are all sorts of reasons why I think this is a weird term for a work of art, but it did have the effect of making me expect the perceived tropes of experimental fiction (at least as I’ve come to understand it): a certain self-awareness or at least ironic distance, typographical oddities, etc.
The Lost Scrapbook is interesting in that its experimental elements are more subsumed than you might think – certainly more than I was expecting. I don’t know that, if I read this without the word having been put into my mind from other sources, I would’ve described it as experimental at all.
It wouldn’t be my first descriptor anyway.
The Lost Scrapbook is a series of (possibly related?) scenes. Scenes of different people doing different things: a young runaway meets up with somebody for something; a tedious professor tries to steer a student’s thesis work according to his own interests; a woman receives a letter from an adventurous friend she may or may not be in love with. Almost nobody is named directly. Scenes take place in different places: Oklahoma, Atlanta, Cleveland.
The Lost Scrapbook gets compared, constantly, to The Recognitions. Probably because it is a big, ambitious first novel. But really, in terms of construction it’s much more like J R. It’s almost entirely composed of dialogue: characters talking to one another or themselves, or to us, or to imaginary others, in hyperverbal dialogues/monologues. There are no periods in the novel; everything is connecting with em dashes, colons, semicolons, or tails off into ellipses or question marks or exclamation points.
The typography is really a sub-mechanism though; the most experimental element of the novel, to me, is that these scenes don’t end, but transition abruptly from one to the next -sometimes in the middle of a sentence, and always in the middle of the action.
There do seem to be connections between the stories, or at least resonances that may eventually network up into something larger: Walkmen recur (this was published in ’95), as do Toyotas, and I count two instances of a joke about How do you know Jesus was Jewish?
But obviously part of the point of this polyphony is that it isn’t supposed to cohere, at least not along traditional novelistic vectors.
But it is, weirdly, a page turner. Among other things, The Lost Scrapbook, incontestably, is a celebration of narrative, of the storybuilding power of the individual human voice. There’s just a certain compulsion to these monologues and scenes, natural and effortlessly captivating. It isn’t, actually, that far removed from the narrative force you see in traditional realist novels like, say, Anna Karenina. This energy shines through the typographical experiments. It adds a unique poignancy to the abrupt shifts in scene: you want to know how all these individual stories end, but you maybe never will. And so what would be disorienting and distancing in a more formal text is actually bittersweet here, like watching some weird little town pass by out of your car window and wondering about who lives there, and knowing that you’ll never know.
Last note: I do wish the individual voices were more differentiated – I mean, in many ways they are, but they all share a certain exuberant vocabulary and articulateness that doesn’t tally with their disparate backgrounds and personalities.