Two years after the last time we spoke, an old friend of mine was convicted of having committed a terrible crime.
I’m thrilled to say that I have a long short story, or perhaps a short novella, in the latest issue of Numéro Cinq. It’s called Unspeakable. Resistance is the word that first springs to mind when I think back over it. It’s a story that in some ways resists being read at all, beginning in a dizzying rush before it shifts gears to a more bearable momentum, and by the end it resists being brought into existence by the events it depicts. A lot of those events are true. Most have been distorted. Some have been exaggerated, others reined in and restrained. Names have been changed throughout. I’ll leave my explanatory remarks at that. To say more would be to cross the lines the story draws around itself.
I love Numéro Cinq. That’s why I’ve decided to pitch in and help out where I can. I’ll be doing some production editing for the magazine and, in the longer term, I hope to publish some work over there. If you’re not familiar with Numéro Cinq, now is a good time to take a look — and be sure to check out its Holy Book of Literary Craft, probably the single most intelligent and most valuable resource for writers available on the web.
The prose is not remarkable in any conventional sense. It is clear, muted, and even pedestrian — a world away from the exuberance of Roberto Bolaño, the zing of Don DeLillo, and the lyricism of Ian McEwan — and, for that reason, Zeitoun has attracted a number of offhand dismissals from broadsheet critics. Indeed, even those who have praised the book’s narrative have expressed reservations about the prose, as if its lack of conventional beauty were a side-effect of Dave Eggers’ overstretched workload or, worse, a symptom of his inherently underwhelming literary capabilities. But since Eggers has repeatedly proven himself one of the most adventurous stylists at work today, it seems more likely that his prose in Zeitoun is unconventionally remarkable given the deliberation with which he attempts to make it appear unremarkable.
The clarity of his prose entails a stylistic about-face so radical that, far from making the prose inconspicuous, Eggers perhaps inadvertently calls attention to the prose itself and thus calls into question the purpose of its clarity.
My review of Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun is online at The Critical Flame.