By Mark Slouka
I really liked the first half of this novel. The writing was evocative. Frequently, I had to reread passages to detail out the entire image in my mind before moving on. The first half was memoir-like, jumping around from memory to memory and there are vague dream-like allusions to past events that are just terrifically pretty. It was like an abstract painting in word form.
I didn't remember that dream for a long time. Many years later I found myself on a train traveling south from Prague to visit friends near Jindrichuv Hradec. Wet snow had been falling all morning, but now a dull winter sun had broken through. Coal smoke hung like a mist over the towns with their smudged little houses. The train ran beside the river that curved against the hills and spread in great gravelly shoals between the fields, and everywhere I could see the remnants of a flood which only that past October had submerged all the things I was now looking at. I saw a sofa lying upside down on a sandbar and white refrigerator like a boulder in the current. On the television antenna of a low abandoned building I glimpsed what looked like a pair of blue pants, stiff as a weathervane. And at that moment for some reason I remembered my dream - the dream I had had a year after we had moved out of our apartment on 63rd Road. I didn't think much of it at the time. I watched the country scrolling by. All along the way, beards of trash hung in the bushes and the trees like Spanish moss, except that here everything was at the same height - the high-water mark - everything below having been swept away by the current.I was not as much of a fan of the second half, where the protagonist journeys to his parents' home-town to piece together his vague childhood memories. Slouka then starts to clear up what actually happened with these fuzzy allusions in the first half. I think large portion of why I was so non-plussed with the second half was that the first half described how some of these events / memories emotionally affected the protagonist. And the second half, while revealing what actually happened, did not actually lead the protagonist to any further emotional epiphany. As a result, it was nice to find out what happened, but I did not care that much.
Strangely enough, just as dreams will sometimes color our memories, the view of the river that day and the dream it recalled together forced themselves on the past, so that afterward, whether I thought of our old apartment, my recollections would always carry a residue of future times, and remembering our apartment I would immediately be forced, like a man stumbling down a series of steps, to recall wandering those same rooms in my dream, and from there to remember the winter morning I'd spent, years later, looking out the dirty windows of the train to Jindrichuv Hradec at all the things, once caught in the current, the flood had left behind.
I'm a big fan of Slouka's writing though and will likely pick up some more of his works.