Readers who would expect from Laura Mullen's Murmur (Futurepoem Books) a "plot" of the sort we usually expect from a work designated a "novel" (even if the plot is deliberately fragmented or only cursorily developed) would certainly be considerably disappointed. What we get instead is a rudimentary situation--a dead woman is found on a beach--that is either real or is the beginning of the plot of a book a woman is reading and that is repeated, in different iterations, over and over.
Readers who would expect well-developed "characters" (as Gilbert Sorrentino would have it, characters who "jump off the page") would also be sorely disappointed. The woman, a detective, potential killers appear and re-appear, changing places with one another so that, as one of the blurbs on the jacket flap describes it, we get "all possible events, all murderers and all murdered, so that, at any point in the narrative, everything has happened and everyone has done it." There are voices, drifting in and out, but no characters.
Thus the reader who would seek a stable point of view, from which we can coherently make sense of the "action," would also be frustrated, especially since the book is offered to us as, ostensibly, a crime novel, or a pastiche of one. Murmur doesn't lead us, as in most detective novels, on an epistemological journey culiminating in knowledge (who done it) but instead renders up a world of epistemological chaos, by which all our ways of knowing are mocked and travestied. Still, we keep reading (or at least I did), not to find out who did what but to find out what new obstacle to our desire for such knowledge (which has us "reading for the plot" and ignoring the means by which it is presented to us) the author will introduce. (Our tendency to read in this way is further mocked at the level of sentence and paragraph; many sentences break off at the margin, left unfinished, the connection to the line that follows short-circuited so that we must bear down even harder and search for the missing sense.)
In short, readers who would expect Murmur to be a recognizable kind of novel in any way other than the most elemental--its 151 pages seem to be related to one another, and we are encouraged through style and imagery to take it as a coherent whole--will probably not enjoy it. It seems to me the very embodiment of John Hawkes's dictum that "the true enemies of the novel [are] plot, character, setting and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking about fiction, totality of vision or structure [is] really all that remain[s]" If anything, Mullen's book is even more combative against the conventional strategies of fiction, more reliant on "totality of vision," than Hawkes's, even, perhaps, more than Beckett's. I liked it, and intend to read it again.
NOTE In this essay, Jennifer K. Dick discusses Murmur more as a long poem than as a novel.