Sunday, July 26, 2015

BLUEBOTTLE by James Sallis

* Book 5 of the Lew Griffin series *
That's what we're here for, Griffin. To bear witness, to
take notice. Ever doubt that, you just look into a child's eyes.
When jumping into a book by James Sallis, especially the ones in the Lew Griffin series, I've learned not to expect that he'll be interested in focusing very much on plot. I don't read them for action, but I do read them for Sallis's evocative writing, and for the characters themselves. I've mentioned before that one of the most fascinating things about the Griffin series is the malleable chronology, the blurring of history and the parallels (which essayist Richard Martin calls "echoes) in Lew's life. In Bluebottle, the fifth and penultimate novel in the series, time is at it's most malleable here than in any of the previous books as Lew remembers a time in the seventies, after he was shot and lost a year of his life and memory, and the subsequent search for the white woman he was with at the time of the shooting. 
Chekhov insists that once a story is written we cross out the end and beginning, since that's where we do most of our lying. What you have here, then, is all middle: all back and fill, my effort to reconstruct the year missing from my life, to hold on to it.
Sallis jumps back and forth and up and down through time as Lew recalls various aspects throughout his life, but it never felt too confusing. And there are many echoes of characters and situations from other parts of Lew's narrative, and sometimes it causes you to either doubt Lew's memory, or wonder at the significance. For example, the woman he's searching for, Dana Esmay, is eerily similar to Esmé Dupuy, the white journalist who was with Lew during the shooting in Black Hornet that is almost a straight parallel to the one here. There are more examples of this throughout all of these books and it makes for fascinating reading. There are some interesting plot elements this time around, like the missing writer that Lew ends up searching for, a man who begins to write his masterpiece by researching a white supremacist group, and might have ultimately began to commit fully to their cause.
I never found out exactly what it was that had hurt my friend so–something working in him a long time, that finally found purchase. In future years I'd come to recognize similar things scrabbling for footholds within myself. They were already there, of course, even then. Sometimes at night I heard them breathing.

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