Julie Reverb

It is not surprising that one of the blurbs for Julie Reverb's debut novel, No Moon (appearing on the publisher's page--Calamari Archive-- for the book), is from Gary Lutz. While I do not know if the two writers are acquainted, or if Reverb would explicitly claim Lutz as an influence, certainly her prose can be reminiscent of Lutz's sonically charged, syntactically ingenious sentences:

Ted hammered the priest's mean pulse. He'd cottoned only Billy's beating and the blind eye turning. The priest was a gummy one; the psalms whistled through his gaps in Mass. Nothing but the drone of phoning it in. Jill stayed quiet or didn't know.

The sound effects in this passage are distinct, if lightly applied. The alliteration--"priests. . .pulse," "Billy's beating. . .blind eye"--draws the reader's attention immediately, but pausing to take in more of the paragraph's aural devices reveals the sibilance of sentence three and the internal rhyming of "drone" and "phoning." The syntax is unorthodox--"the blind eye turning"--if not momentarily confounding--"whistled through his gaps in Mass"--but ultimately quite pleasingly evocative: If we're not sure about the "gaps in Mass," surely "the drone of phoning it in" tells us all we need to know about the priest's performance.

Reverb's prose style, which could be described as self-consciously literary (at least in the sense that the author is quite clearly concerned with the sound and structure of her sentences), at first might seem a curious choice for depicting the fictional world of No Moon, which is altogether tawdry and uncultivated. The story, which is told in a sidelong, elliptical way, freely moving between past and present, centers on Lucy, an exotic dancer and prostitute, and Billy, a disabled man who falls in love with Lucy and tries to build a grand burlesque show around her in an old movie theater turned seedy strip club. The effort comes to naught when the gangster-ish club owner finally discovers what Billy is up to and closes down the show as Billy is trying to introduce it on opening night (after Billy has already failed to even find a print shop willing to print his crude poster advertising the event). As the novel concludes, the club is burning and Lucy has suffered a complete mental breakdown.

The meticulous intricacy of No Moon's style has the effect of distancing us from the otherwise abject characters and their degraded milieu, so that we don't really feel we are getting to "know" the characters intimately, in a way that would enhance feelings of sympathy for them (indeed, the effect of the novel's ending is in part determined by our lack of complete knowledge about Lucy). Nor is the shabby environment described with the kind of focus meant to evoke a "gritty" realism in depicting such a marginalized district. The novel doesn't "poeticize" its subject, but it does resist both sentimentality and a mocking irony and instead provides its own kind of authenticity through the aesthetic integrity of the prose, which offers its alternative but cogent representation of the characters' lives as well as the setting in which those lives have been determined.

No Moon is a slim novel, but it is "minimalist" only in size, not in the scope of its portrayal of human experience or the ambition of its writing. The sort of linguistic and syntactical innovation (what Lutz has called the achievement of a "vivid extremity of language") to be found in the fiction of writers like Gary Lutz and Diane Williams, and now pursued by Julie Reverb, allows for a greater compression of form because sentences and paragraphs are themselves more dynamic and provide the amplification we usually expect from fuller development of form and narrative. It will be interesting to see how Reverb further extends the possibilities of this orientation to the art of fiction in her future work.



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