Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Fixed Stars: Thirty-Seven Emblems for the Perilous Season by Brian Conn

Like Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps (one of my favorite books of 2010), Brian Conn's debut, The Fixed Stars: Thirty-seven Emblems for the Perilous Season, is a story not so much read as experienced. It is a post-post-apocalyptic world Conn's characters inhabit. The blurb on the back from Brian Evensen calls it "the future of the future" and he isn't far wrong. However, where Krilanovich was stream-of-consciousness and wildly vulgar in content, Conn's prose is quiet and full of imagery that, if not given a slow read, passes by beautifully, though that imagery, if read carefully, is also full of vulgarity and barbarism rarely written with such precision and focus in fiction.

The story is centered around John's Day, a celebration of the perverse and the barberous. A community regularly quarantines itself from plagues and copulates with each other quite vigorously. Some get lost in the woods, others get lost in a bathhouse. There are mentions of post late-capitalists. There are sections in the book that neither seem to have any purpose within its own context or, to be more particular, to forward, in any way, the plot. Many readers might see this as a flaw in the action of a novel; however, Conn has something to say you: who cares, plots come and plots go, threads are threaded and then, just as quickly, unthreaded, or prove themselves to be false threads.

What I'm getting at is that The Fixed Stars is so alien to read it is hard to grasp. The characters and the world portrayed within are so utterly unlike anything we know that, if you aren't prepared, will throw you out and it won't give a damn, not in the slightest. But if you want to experience a place that hasn't been experience before, The Fixed Stars is the place to go. I don't believe there is any way to fully understand entirely what Conn is driving at because he refuses, on any level, to give the reader anything to hold on to.

And yet. And yet, despite the lack of an empathetic character or a plot to understand, Conn imbues this world with a kind of sympathy that is also rarely seen in fiction. This world is as real and as relevant as our own. The final section is particularly heartbreaking. Though it's early in the year and this book was published in 2010, so far this is my favorite of the year.

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