May 2009

Blake Butler


Rose Alley by Jeremy M. Davies

Few, it seems, are the storytellers who can pack a life into every line. Those of Thomas Pynchon and Barry Hannah, who can sum up a whole character’s life and identity within the span of a paragraph, and then move on, and yet still leave the reader with a resonance that that life has meant something -- these are tactics rare and difficult, and yet some of the most rewarding and brain-rending modes for those who’d ask more of a story than simple arcs and turns. In this tradition -- call it, maybe, that of the big-brained, wildly associative creator -- Jeremy M. Davies’s Rose Alley from Counterpath Press, is a new and supremely exciting node, one packed to the gills with not only several lifetimes, clearly rendered, but also with a profound sense of ultimate authorial control.

On its face, and in pristine form, Rose Alley is the story of a cryptic, violent film, set in 1968 Paris during a series of student riots. These territorial subjects, though, are less the novel’s bread than the histories of the bodies of their creators, which therein, they as well contain. Rose Alley, then, is propagated via the cast and crew of the titular film -- the director, actors, editors, etc., monikered again a la Pynchon and Hannah with singularly unusual titles such as Prosper Sforza and Ephraim Bueno -- and the ways these bodies, in their strange meshings, bear the film.

The result is less about one stung story, and more about the sprawl: the creation of an object and all that surrounds it, from the fleshy to the gone. As the linking lives and strange collisions of the crews' lives are delivered in chapters each titled for the character around which they spin, an aura about the film and its creation emerges, each building off of and from the next, as well as the time from which it births. An innovative vehicle for a novel surely, and one that in Davies’s wickedly smart hands is difficult to shake out of the head.

The result is geodesic -- a continuity built both off the terrain of the movement, in paragraphs so well-honed they could stand from any section on their own -- a fact based on the power of the prose as much as its continually shifting (filmic) subject matter, by turns sanguine, amorous, and hilarious, composing histories with moments of the strangest introspections:

She thought: here is my small intestine. If it were punctured by a bullet or knife, shit would leak into my bloodstream and choke me to death. My body is a carrier and producer of poisons. Eventually the processes that keep the poisons separate will break down, and the contents of my body will mix. It is only by their differentiation that I stay alive and individual. Old age will mix me and then I’ll have taken a step toward becoming muck like the humus I walk on in the garden or that black Raoul Foche lives and sleeps in with his wife and kid and cat in their perfumed shithole in Montparnasse. Scratches are the world and its dirt mixing with my system. Prosper fucks me, and the vibrations themselves and entropic and hasten my demise. Selwyn Wexler in his hotel room gets a hard-on thinking about me and the blood that goes into his cock could probably be put to better use. I touch my belly and I am touching a time bomb whose detonation will leave me without recourse.

The resulting stream of sentences parade on not only on Davies’s sharp tongue for syllables and poise, but for the care and humor with which they are delivered. Davies’s eye for detail, and for how those details, encombed, together build, make Rose Alley a pleasure not only for their form and content, but for their provocative craft. There is a greater presence here, one both meticulous and with an eye for the greater orchestration, and one also reflected in the novel’s one ever-present, meta-device: a nameless, carefully inducted narrator, himself the excavator who compiles Rose Alley’s archive of tunneling arcane. By the end we feel full, but having amassed great ground in clean but fervent stroking, somewhat in the mind of Steve Erickson’s Zeroville, or sometimes even certain modes of David Foster Wallace.

Here is a debut novel full not only of sex and violence, alternate histories, layerings of will, but also in sentences designed to entertain as much as dazzle, making Jeremy M. Davies a great new brain trust for the page.

Rose Alley by Jeremy M. Davies
ISBN: 1933996137
192 Pages