December 2005

Olivia Cronk

fiction

Love Block by Meghan Austin and Shannon Mullally

The opening lines of Love Block should woo any fool:

Agent 160:
Enclosed, please find the following requested items:
1. rope
2. personal lubricant (pump top)
I assume -- from the contents of today’s shipment --
that you are unable to make progress, as they say.
I was unable to locate the following item(s):
__love block__
Is this a topical solution? Please advise. ~Agent K.

Love Block is a project. Its creators documented it for three days. It is a search for love repellant. And it is a novel. Love Block is not a thing that arcs, that characterizes. Nor is it a thing that describes.

For the past 27 years, writers have been registering for a contest in which they have three days, over Labor Day weekend, to complete a novel. “Outlines are permitted prior to the contest; however, the actual writing must begin no earlier than 12:01 a.m.... Novels may be written using any method, and in any location, anywhere in the world... There are no limits to the novel’s length, but entries average 100 typewritten pages, double-spaced.”

Meghan Austin and Shannon Mullally registered for a collaborative spot in the game of September 2004. And they won. The novel was written via e-mail and phone in Chicago and Seattle -- over three mere days. The constraint of such a contest yielded an odd and loveable thing. The “novel” becomes an actual document of time passing, a record of the writing and imagining process -- sort of an upside-down-world version of Proust. Each moment of the writing -- proof of “time” as a unit of existence.

The basic premise of Love Block is the correspondence between two secret agents working together on a repellant, a cure, a fix for love. The letters act exactly as letters do: they are chatty, sometimes informative, presumptuous, digressive, re-active. The agents banter about their project in the context of interrelated love mishaps and a dash of literary theory. There are no chapters, but the letters create a feeling of organization.

Austin and Mullally have an uncanny ability to place items of the world (the mundane, the domestic, the raunchy, the connotative, the bizarre) in their words. When these objects come together, they form a tone that is at once hilarious and heart-wrenching. How can tone be established by objects? I have an analogy. An artist wanted to do a project with these multiple little houses she had made. They were all identical, all palm-sized. She did not know what they could become. A simple village would burden them with unintended meaning. She read some Gertrude Stein. (Think: “And then they came and they went past them and they went into a house, a man and then a goat and then a woman and then a dog and then the door closed.”) She made a video of her hands moving the houses about, sometimes in slow-motion, sometimes sped up. The hands arranged and rearranged, creating a pattern of motion. Time passed. The houses’ positions made a sort of sense. When I heard the artist describe her process, she claimed that reading the Stein had given her an appreciation for the notion that nonsense might create its own kind of emotion. The tumbling of words upon one another creates a logic that creates a tone that implies emotional content.

The hands jumbling the houses creates a pattern (incidental) that creates a message, maybe, of emotional weight. Austin and Mullally send their novel in pieces to one another, as themselves, as characters, as curators of this project, as contestants in a larger conte(x)(s)t. The placement of things (i.e. “the world”) in their lines, and in the narrative loosely created by the epistles (some with the sharp-tongued wit of a catty e-mail, some with the vague familiarity of a telegram, some with the ramble of a telephone call), creates emotional content. The underlying notion that the thing does, indeed, have an innate sense makes the read sheer candy. The book hits cerebral pleasure spots at an angle that fiction can’t always reach. And the seemingly random pattern of objects and observations allows us to see how the world interferes with the novel. More documentation. And it’s done with such weird elegance. It’s the punch line over the coffin, the urine-stained prom dress, the crippled squirrel crossing the alley in a snowfall.

K:
The woman whom I am currently living with is having sex down the hall with injured bike head. The thing is, I hear only him. I’d rather hear only her. I am getting arrested at this very moment. Arrested by something called horniness.

Also, our horoscopes the agency sends out says I’m dead and therefore not written in the Book of Eternal Life (surprise) and that you have been arrested for supposedly teaching a man to fish who later died of starvation. I’m assuming you are a Capricorn?

—160

This might be what I mean to say: the whole project goes beyond language, i.e., beyond the normal and expected scope of a novel. Even the act of reading it is participation in the project and in the game. The authors are bending genre to lovely effect. They worked with their units (of time, of language, of narrative) with nurturing, caretaking voices, hurried as they might have been. They recognize the functions of the littlest units. And they seem so conscious of their narrators as joke-tellers, more than storytellers. This makes the pangs of love read quite honestly. “Has he shown you his rotten teeth? Once you see the rotten teeth, it’s impossible to feel anything but love and disgust for someone, which are the same.” “(To be offensive is to be empathetic.)”

Love Block by Meghan Austin & Shannon Mullally
3-Day Books
ISBN: 1551521946
91 pages