Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fiskadoro : Denis Johnson

By Denis Johnson

Like someone with an accent that you are unused to, this took sometime to get immersed and follow what was going on.

And even then, it took awhile for things to progress, if you could call it progression.  There was no overarching/traditional storyline here.

The setting was Key West Florida, which had gone through a major destructive event and had become quarantined for a number of years.  There are three main characters: an adolescent, Fiskadoro, Mr. Cheung, a middle-aged musician, trying to hold onto the history of Key West and Marie, Mr. Cheung's grandmother, who slips in and out of memories.

Johnson sets up a number of different communities living there with a range of languages/accents, but across the board, the majority of people have forgotten/lost interest in history (as well as scientific thought) and one of the major themes seems to be the result of this ignorance: that the people continually fall deeper and deeper into a more primal / superstitious way of living.

Some of it gets downright strange, very much like the randomness of a dream, but it is in these passages that
Johnson really excels, setting up the environment,  moods and the descent from rationality to chaos really quite well:
He couldn't see straight, his neck was tired, his voice was loud and hollow in his ears when he spoke, and he had to breathe the same air over and over.  By the time the ceremony began, although he remembered everything he was supposed to remember, he'd forgotten he was wearing another head, forgotten his voice hadn't always been huge and dark, forgotten what it was like not to be dizzy. He believed now that his head was outside of him, all around him, and that all around his head were his dreams and thoughts. He was inside-out. The wild tempo of the village percussionists cut through the trees and found his ears.  The languid song of voices fell down like rain over the clearing.
With all the chaos and superstition, it was quite difficult to sympathize with any character.  And for the life of me, I cannot claim to get what the ending paragraph means.

But just based on some of the passages towards the end of the book alone, I might be intrigued enough to pick up some of Johnson's more acclaimed works to see if it's just this one book or his writing in general that  is hard to follow.

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