April 2008

David Varno


Bicycle by Paul Fattaruso

What makes a promising book like Bicycle fall short is not the difficulty with which to categorize it (prose poem? novella? children’s book?), but the fact that it doesn’t feel done. 

Here is an assumption for what the author, Paul Fattaruso (whose first book, Travel in the Mouth of the Wolf, was also very brief in length and in episodes of narrative but was better realized), intends: The bicycle is to represent any number of common, universal objects that have great meaning to their owner, and therefore can be imagined to possess a consciousness all of their own. Some of the book’s seventy-seven entries on the bicycle, dressed up with line drawings by Adam Thompson, are quite poetic, and others show a chance to build on a theme. But the author shifts gears (clearly no pun intended) so abruptly that neither narrative nor poem ever develops.

Not that there’s anything wrong with multiplicity or contradiction; they are necessary elements to what Fattaruso is working towards. Consider the many bicycles of Bicycle: the bicycle with a mind of its own; the bicycle that doesn’t know it’s a bicycle, the object of affection eclipsed by the bicycle (“Her freckles describe a bicycle moving too swiftly to touch”); the bicycle that goes where its owner goes; and the bicycle that shows the owner where to go. Additionally, over the course of this reader’s two-and-a-half reads through the book, each entry struck differently than the previous time, depending on mood -- and the reactions of those with whom it was shared differed as well. In that sense the book takes on a life of its own, and makes it worthy to ponder.

Most provocative are the scenes that use the bicycle to center the action. Each are potential en medias res, such as this one: “Already noon, and still the sunlight is thin as Bible paper; women ride through the streets in their nightgowns.” This sort of dreamy surrealism is found elsewhere, but its narrative potential, as that of other passages, is left behind for more nostalgic or sentimental odes such as, “I am headed to that place where they still dry the laundry by clothesline.” At times there are glimpses of a journey, one with near-Homeric devotion towards its end -- except that the destination itself is unclear to the narrator as well as the reader. Perhaps this is part of the point, that the way to live life is to go by way of the bicycle, with faith the answers will be revealed, in turn. Fattaruso’s everyman voice will surely win over some converts; when detailing the bicycle’s anatomy, his lay terminology (crossbar rather than top tube) is antithetical to the alienating gearhead. He’s just a guy who loves his bike.

The bicycle is not alive and it doesn’t know you. There is no Easter Bunny or tooth fairy. The fact that this sort of truth is never reached (along with Thompson’s cute, gimmicky drawings) is what makes Bicycle like a children’s story. But it reads more like a case of an adult who is unaware of projecting one’s vision onto an object. As much mysticism as Fattaruso attempts to surround the bicycle with, the book is ultimately about the narrator’s relationship with it. “Like an angel, the bicycle is born with an innate choreography, which it cannot fail to understand.” We create angels, just as the narrator creates his bicycle. Trouble is, the author doesn’t seem aware of this.

Bicycle by Paul Fattaruso
Akashic Books
ISBN: 097891032X
96 Pages