In this installment of Page 69,
we put Brian Allen Carr's upcoming novel, Sip, to the test.
Set up page 69 for us (what are we about to read):
SIP is in six sections that are broken into scenes. Here is a scene shortly after one of the protagonists is exiled from a train-circled encampment and into the wilderness. They kick him out into the world naked. But his brother smuggles him a rifle. So. . .
What’s the book about?
SIP is set in a speculative future wherein people have gained the ability to get drunk by drinking their shadows. It’s a meditation on addiction and polarization, on humanity and depravity. Some people have called it post-apocalyptical. I dunno. To me, it’s just a book.
Essentially it follows a brief adventure. One of the inhabitants of this world, Mira, has a mother whose shadow has been stolen. The adventure ensues when Mira (a young woman who can hide her shadow), Murk ( a shadow addict who has had his leg forcibly amputated), and Bale ( who was raised in a dome and new to the outside world) follow a folk healers advice and set out to commit a murder.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
Probably. At least Bale’s story line in the book. For Bale, the story is one of new places, new things. It’s about confusion. Nothing is more confusing than being naked when you don’t want to be. It’s pretty Adam and Eve.
[Adam] answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid. And [God] said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?
In terms of overall theme? Probably. Uncertainty and confusion run rampant in SIP, and, aesthetically it’s a good showing.
Much of SIP is served up as sips. Many of the scenes are a page long. I like white space and brevity. I think I draw on my time in cooking there. I like the idea of plating a scene. I try to be as Zen as possible. To give the reader what they need of the story in the most composed way possible.
In Thomas Keller’s cookbook, The French Laundry, he talks about “the law of diminishing returns” and he argues that the first few bites of everything are intensely flavorful, but the more you eat the less the food astounds you. His approach is that he wants to leave the diner wanting more.
That’s my approach with SIP as well. Each scene is supposed to be reduced to its most flavorful serving.
My true hope is that the book pops along so quickly, that it’s a quick read.
I’m not the first person to try to write this way.
Hell, I think Anthony Doerr was attempting something like this with his Pulitzer winning All the Light We Cannot See, though that book is historical fiction. Richard Brautigan did this with The Hawkline Monster, though his book was more aligned with irony. Borges did this sort of, but his approach was to take things that could be 300 pages and make them three. Jenny Offill sort of did this with, Dept. of Speculation, but that book was the story of a very realistic marriage.
Anyhow, there’s precedent for it.
But, yeah. SIP is sips. Language forward and plot driven action adventure with a philosophical underpinning.
I hope it works for folks.
Bale in Exile
Bale sat naked, his back to a mesquite trunk, huffing breath. The limbs of the thing draped down toward the ground, bends of them rested on the dirt. It was as though the tree was a bark covered hand, roosted on its fingertips. The thumb was the trunk, the limbs the other fingers. Above, the canopy he took cover under, somehow the palm of the thing. He’d never been beneath a tree. He lounged in awe of it. He heard a few more shots. He inspected the rifle, ejected the magazine, counted the rounds. He’d half expected Drummond to leave a single bullet, a way out if he chose it, but his big brother had loaded up. Bale had fifteen shots. His feet ached, he had scrapes down his front, and he had to find food, water, and shelter. The wasteland of his life to come was, at that time, unimaginable. It’d be like trying to consider where you stand in relation to the universe while a house you’re trapped in is on fire. His balls dipped in the dirt. He could feel grass blades in his ass crack.
Brian Allen Carr is the author of several story collections and novellas and has been published in McSweeney’s, Hobart, and The Rumpus. He was the inaugural winner of the Texas Observer short story prize as judged by Larry McMurtry, and the recipient of a Wonderland Book Award. He splits his time between Texas and Indiana, where he writes about engineers and inventors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. This is his first novel.