October 2008

Erin McKnight

fiction

Fog and Car by Eugene Lim

In this debut novel documenting the aftermath of a shattered marriage -- its disintegration evident in the artifacts of memory and loss strewn across an abandoned landscape -- Eugene Lim doesn’t as much collect and catalogue the fragments of lives shared, as artfully piece them into a puzzle reflective of players whose moves were induced by seemingly inconsequent forces.

Partitioned into four sections -- “Mirror,” “Marriage,” “Mirage,” and “Merge” -- Fog & Car renders, by way of an anticipation that heightens with every shift in point of view and characterization, an existence that has been shorn into unequal parts -- each former-partner charged with navigating an unplanned and perhaps unimpressive future in the image of overwhelming bleakness it offers.

“Mirror” finds Mr. Fog and Ms. Car in separate physical and existential locations. Whereas Fog is left splintered by the loss of what their union signified, Car sees her reflection in the bathroom mirror, kitchen window at night, and the spoon she licks after stirring her coffee, as contorted and often narrow in form, but nonetheless blurry enough to preserve the possibility of eventual reshaping and sharpening. In a narrative as analytical as Fog’s is dissonant, Car’s sight is fixed on a future promising reclamation of the restless spirit that led her around the globe; prior, of course, to the idling proffered by a man whose own sense of wanderlust had long involved looking over a shoulder while attempting to reclaim a time-worn path.

Like a blank page of paper mailed from one ex-spouse to the other, the early image of Fog and Car is a reproduction of the severed ties between his ephemeral shaping and her assured lines. Fog back home in Ohio, Car starting over in New York, they find each other again only in the penmanship of characters whose influence on this once-couple’s relationship may seem minimal, if not altogether unidentifiable.

Whereas Mr. Exit’s presence in Fog’s life was once crucial, Car’s memory labels him a fat man, the embodiment of her aversion to laziness and a lack of control. Consequently, his appearance in a life that is now spent in motion between two ends of a swimming pool lap lane -- every strike of an elbow into water propelling her body forward -- is debilitating in its ability to moor Car to a present centered on a run-in with an acquaintance much changed. Tackling the novel’s second section with a precision surgical in nature, Lim peels away the fleshy layer of skin from the wound of divorce, manifesting for the reader the visceral inner-workings of effectual relationships and how they may alter an image that takes shape.

Here Fog finds love with Judy, and Car discovers in the random sighting of a transformed Exit the multiplicity of choices a game’s player can be compelled to make. Dipping her head beneath the chlorinated water’s surface Car discovers alcohol: a propensity responsible for her evolution from passive proofreader to active writer of her own plot. Consequently, it is within Car’s personal cast of characters that Mac comes to life; his homeless, ragged form responsible for the inability to hold a pen confidently in fingers left robbed of memory, his smearing of black desperation across Car’s page an appeal for help. In his resolve to discover his identity, Mac takes to trailing Car, who is tracking Frank Exit. Whereas Fog finds himself bound with Judy in their newly purchased, painted, and decorated house, Car’s unraveling possesses implications that extend far beyond the uncanny or unexpected -- as reflected in Lim’s phenomenal ability to nestle revelatory gems in the corners of his muscular text.

Exit’s entrance induces lives to converge; the meticulous pacing and measured magnetism of this intersection no small feat. Giving way to the third division of the novel, “Mirage,” Fog reaches out to his ex-wife: now an often-inebriated stalker who wrestles with power and memory on a scale that extends far beyond unsigned letters, and deteriorates into illusory pages of crumpled ramblings left strewn about after frantic nights passed without sleep. In his communication, written six months prior to his second wedding, Fog hopes for “Ms. Automobile” to be directing a movie “in some place where they speak a language which [her] mouth can’t shape the sounds of.” His admission that he envies her, years after the collapse of their marriage, is offered, finally, by a man who understands that the past gives way to the future much as a paper boat succumbs to the spreading stain of river water that rises as the flimsy vessel sinks.

Arranged with the eye of an experienced puzzle-solver, the third section of Fog & Car suggests a unification of its edges that will materialize in the coda, yet an ultimate protection of its pieces’ borders that occurs when Lim brings Frank Exit, Mac, and Judy into the forefront of Fog and Car’s reflection. Like a series of concentric circles forming in the air when, with a quick scoop, burning coals are pushed inside a tin can that has attached to it a long piece of twine, the “whooping, dancing in and out of the circle [that] is made out of embers” is really the re-shifting of puzzle pieces; the center is identified and rejected over and again, as each time the shape of the image forming around it isn’t complete and shatters the possibility of depicting for the reader an image of intimate connection that is not only recognizable, but sought after in life relationships -- those abandoned, or those reclaimed.

Fog & Car by Eugene Lim
Ellipsis Press
ISBN: 0963753606
276 Pages