Brian Evenson: The Wavering Knife Stories



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Musicologists Or phenomenologists Husserl or Heidegger Merleau Ponty or Ricoeur or Evenson s own beloved Lingis missing v empty v insufficient v perverted v hidden v forgottensuppressed v ex eg girl n doll tableauxeg lady who saws her own head most of the way off 3Out running very early this morning I saw a woman and her toddler standing on their front porch The woman lifted the front of her knee length skirt as I ran by too far p for some things not far enough for others and said to me called out to me A fox is running around out here I slowed Her expression was not one of schizophrenia or comehitherness but of simple human worry and fear I thanked her for the forewarning The toddler toddled and laughed This neighborhood frankly confuses meIINo this doesn t sound like him at all or shouldn t isn t meant to7Thought Experiment A Beginning at the precise moment in which a given reviewer comes to consider twelve given stories the best twelve stories of a given collection work backwards three years or ten thousand miles whichever comes first Then stop and describe what you see81Speaking of Linnaeus one way in which the stories of The Wavering Knife can nearly be classified is as followsa Satire Religious Academic Artistic Social Otherb Allegory Human Subhuman Suprahuman Otherc Other With Dismemberment and Laughter Without Dismemberment or Laughter With Laughter but not Dismemberment With Dismemberment but not Laughter11 The body says Brother Johanssen is not simple flesh staunching blood and slung over bones but a way of slipping and spilling through the world Johanssen is correct in this but it is not yet clear whose interests he has at heart4The world is a stomach and Evenson is a fist In this sense and others it is nsurprising that in 2005 The Wavering Knife won the International Horror Guild Award for best story collection Other things could also be said For example the first story in the book is part of the estion to which most of the rest of the book is part of the answer 4 This is the paragraph in which I grind hopefully only a lens and then look through it at the best stories in The Wavering Knife The Ex Father 44 Brian Evenson The Wavering Knife contains Barcode Jesus one of the finest American short stories of the last sixty years Samuel R Delany his 50 literary pillars Though the first couple of stories in this collection didn t wholly win me over their humor and dark tendencies set enough hooks in my flesh to keep reading The collection opens Moon Over Water (Deliverance Company, up after that into a world of rural religious zealots dwelling in moral ambiguity you can almost see the Trump signs in the background obsessed narrators twisted psychological dramas bizarre vignettes of violence and torture tales that recall Kafka s In the Penal Colony but ratchetedp about tenfold The title story was one of my favorites reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard as it follows a scholar studying a philosopher s papers The Reunion Mission \ Tall Dark Defender under stultifying conditions Evenson moves into metafictional territory with Moran s Mexico A Refutation by C Stelzmann a fascinating excursion into theestionable translation of a travel guide complete with amusingly dry footnotes provided by the translator Near the other end of what is a fairly wide spectrum here One Over Twelve pitches the reader headfirst into a drug induced hallucinatory nightmare and is by far one of the darkest bleakest stories I have ever read Evenson s writing feels strongly steeped in the dark tonic of his progenitors engendering a wholly new imagination set loose into the wild fields to run amok I m fully on board with him at this point and will be reading soon The typeface in this book is the Her Brooding Italian Surgeon ugliest shit I ve ever seen Yes that impeded my enjoyment I did like about six of these nineteen stories but that s not a very good ratio I got a pretty heavy Paul Auster vibe off this guy granted I ve only read the New York Trilogy but I feel like that s enough to get an Auster vibe off another author in that these aren t really stories they re like ideas of stories I m reminded of what Dave Kehr said about A Woman is a Woman Godard s idea of a musical is just that an idea of a musical If that. E the solitary nature of reading and writing leads characters beyond human limits making the act of putting words to paper a monstrous violation opening onto madness In White Suare the representation of humans by dimly colored shapes confirms our feeling that something lies behind these words while seeming to mocks with the futility of seeking it Evenson's enigmatic names Thurm Bein Hatcher Burlun placeable landscapes and barren rooms all combine to create a sembl.

An excellent collection of short stories dealing with themes of obsession horror and other miscellaneous oddities tied together by Brian Evenson s malignant preoccupation with the theme of human distortion Just like the title suggests Brian Evenson loves creating a wavering effect between the grit of humanity and the illusions that often come to define The Venetians Mistress us He givess chaos and characters thrown into that chaos on some kind of Two Steps Forward uest toncover the truth Characters become art objects or The Soldiers Mission (Secret Agent Series, uncontrollable menaces you can tite define A character s humanity is stripped away and it is in that absence that the true value of humanity is properly realizedThroughout these stories you will find a beloved wife s death turned into an art installation The Installation disembodied narrators One Over Twelve and Body an imaginary baby Virtual ests for religious salvation The Prophets and Barcode Jesus the deadly imitation of art and life and its effect on the psyche The Wavering Knife and Moran s Mexico and attempts to seek the truth behind rules and promises Promisekeepers and House Rules Evenson churns humanity through the meat processor of fantasy distorting what it means to be human not merely for the sake of grisly imagery but as a means for making sense of why we love lie rule kill procreate worship inspire and liveMy favorite pieces in this collection are Virtual The Wavering Knife One Over Twelve Moran s Mexico House Rules and my all time favorite The Installation Most of the stories are riveting The shorter ones tend to be pretty obliue on first read Garker s Aestheticals The Progenitor Stockwell Calling the Hour but pon subseuent read throughs yield alot of literary heft Most of the stories contain the themes outlined above The only strike against this collection would be that a couple pieces Promisekeepers and The Gravediggers feel like dark comedy sketches and are a little out of place amidst the heavyhitters hereBrian Evenson is a fantastic writer and this collection is an excellent example of that this review originally appeared in Art VoiceBrian Evenson observes violence He is the man behind the counter selling pins to boys who will push them through butterfly brains But it s not so much Does the butterfly die Or Why does the butterfly die Or even How does the butterfly die Evenson is all about dissecting the painstakingly generic transactions that brought the pin to the butterfly brain He is also about why in the end the boy and the butterfly are exactly the same Or the possibility that neither pin butterfly or boy ever actually existedOr said a different way Brian Evenson writes with the cool intellectual acceptance of the darkness and absurdity inherent in humanness as well as anyone since Franz Kafka But then again he is Poe than Kafka Witness the title story The Wavering Knife In this one a narrator is obsessively studying the papers of deceased writerphilosopher Eva Gengli He is allowed access to these papers in exchange for taking care of Gengli s decrepit executor referred to throughout the story as the benefactor As the narrator s obsession with Gengli deepens the executor s condition worsens nobody breaks apart a human body like Evenson The Ancient Central Andes until both are physically and mentally ruined The dark tone the creepy first person narrator the parallel of an old man s physical decay with his supposed caretaker s mentalndoing The Wavering Knife is nothing if not an pdate of Poe s classic The Tell Tale Heart Which is not to say that Evenson is derivative While the psychological terrain may be familiar Evenson s attack the calculating violence of his language and imagery feels jarringly new Brian Evenson is an American master of the macabre in the making This review first appeared in issue 62 of The Cincinnati Review It s maybe the most fun I ve had thinking about a bookRegarding Fleshknives1 This is the paragraph in which I overlay the subject of this review the finest book I have read in the past twelve months Brian Evenson s The Wavering Knife and yes less review of than documentation of experience with or through with doilies crocheted by other than fictionists By historians say Or. Brian Evenson's fifth story collection constructs a human landscape as nearthly as it is mundane Replete with the brutality primordial waste and savage blankness familiar to readers of his earlier works Evenson's Kafkaesue allegories entice the mind while stubbornly disordering it In the title story an obsessive consciousness folds back on itself creating a vertiginous mélange of Poe and Borges both horrific and metaphysical Here as in Moran's Mexico and Greenhous.

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S your thing have at it I wasn t in the mood Evenson s stories are superbly constructed but I felt this collection grow a little repetitive When you grow accustomed to the grotesue it ceases to be shocking There s a lot going on here of course but towards the end of the collection I started to find it tiresome The characters are pretty much al religious nuts or regular nuts I wish I had written this book Dark methodical these stories wiggle their way into your brain and stay there for a long long time like little cerebro literary worms The Wavering Knife by Brian Evenson Among the writers we read there are some who entertain s some we can appreciate but don t feel any particular affinity with some we intensely dislike and some we admire so much we d like to be them And then there is a small category that transcends all the categories above the writers we are simply in awe of I had such a feeling when I read Th Mann or Maurice Blanchot And now reading Brian Evenson s The Wavering KnifeI should say that I didn t like all the stories in this collection in fact I disliked some of them because of their violence and cruelty though this violence makes me think of Georges Bataille since in many of the stories it s directed against the first person narrator that is against the author s alter ego and is therefore a very different kind of violence that the one in say Hollywood movies One could say that the dismembering of the narrator s body a leitmotif in many of these stories is akin to the falling apart of language and its meaning sorry for the clich but it s hard to put into a language that doesn t sound ridiculous the experience of reading these stories Or one could say exactly the opposite that in order for language to be born the writer has to experience a kind of death language being the only thing worth living or dying over from One Over Twelve Evenson s descriptions of the various mutilations of the body are for me among the most authentic expressions I ve ever come across of the attempt to capture a lost sacredness of language again the word sacredness should be taken here in the sense given to it by Bataille or Blanchot Another author in whose work I felt a similar authenticity is the poet Gh rasim Luca not by accident are both Luca and Evenson praised by Gilles Deleuze Evenson doesn t have Luca s stammered language on the contrary he is a master of the proper word ie of the perfect word in the right place but there is a pain coming through the page which can only originate in the author s body and which seals the text with an authenticity that refuses to accept any kind of mimetic representation of the experienceBut there are also stories in this collection that are extremely funny a dark humor to be sure such as The Intricacies of Post Shooting Etiuette In this story the characters names and relationships have a Beckettian absurdness in other stories this absurdness goes even farther as the relationships are stripped of causality and psychology and the settings are reduced to their essential elements It is also interesting that this book is written for the most part in two voices one infused with Beckettian detachment and another one very different impersonating a Christian alcoholic government hater fundamentalist who obviously doesn t express the author s point of view I am nsure how to antify my appreciation of this book THE WAVERING KNIFE is a short story collection so there were stories that were intriguing and mind bending in a way only Brian Evenson is capable of There was no bad story to speak of here but there are some I didn t nderstand Stories like MORAN S MEXICO A REFUTATION BY C STELZMANN or BODY for example But some of these stories man They re special WHITE SUARE is as much of a challenge to the reader than it is to its protagonist and you find SOME of the answers somewhere else in the book so you have to remain patient and alert THE INTRICACIES OF POST SHOOTING ETIUETTE is both hilarious and eerily humane VIRTUAL is probably my favorite story of the entire book which is about faith and obsession Loved the book It defeated me at times but I loved it nonetheles. Ance of conceptual abstraction as though the material niverse had come to exist inside someone's headSmall wonder that Evenson's work has attracted so much attention among philosophers literary critics and other speculative intelligences for it continuously projects a tantalizing absence as though there were some key or code that if only we knew it would illuminate everything However the blade of discernment wavers and we are left to our own groping interpretations.