“I do know that missing is a feeling,” Ruby announces, in Riel Nason’s debut, The Town that Drowned. Is it? It’s true for Ruby, and her story is preoccupied with what is being lost, a chronological tale rooted in the moments of losing.
At first glance, it seems as though Lydia Perović’s All That Sang echoes Ruby’s belief. “Have you ever desired anybody so much that your every waking moment was occupied by the thought of that person?”
Many readers will recognise the feeling, but the kind of missing with which All That Sang is preoccupied is not only a feeling, but something with a shape, dimensions and solidity.
This kind of missing is the space around which this story is structured, if one can still say that it is structured if the shape of it all is the shape of absence, the not-quite-story.
“I don’t know what I’m attempting to tell if I abandon the story, but I know I have that urge. Of telling without storifying. Of writing without re-enchanting. Without tidying. I have the desire to keep the muddle.”
But the desire to keep the muddle, to preserve the mess of it all, is not as disorienting for the reader as it is for the miss-er (the one who misses), even if it is not as orderly as the life of the miss-ee (the one who is missed/missing) appears to be.
“Plot is a form of self-medication: look, rejoice, there’s a glimpse of sense. Fragments will come together to mean something. Let’s ignore all what conspires against the narrative.”
Readers can ignore it if they wish, They can flip past the series of photos near the middle of the book, the streetscapes featuring buildings which occupy geographical space but also emotional territory in the narrator’s memory.
It’s as though they represent what was lost, even though they are connected to the almost-story by a particular (and very thin) thread.
The writer has not ignored all that conspires against the narrative. Neither did I, as reader. It wasn’t necessary to know the city of Paris, in order to appreciate the aspects of the novel which unfold there, but I set the book aside to search for some images of some of the locations described
This kind of detail affords readers a thoroughfare through the story. Although perhaps we have had to move to one side, to observe the loss-soaked story from the sidelines. (Also, to allow the voices of unexpected characters to offer their perspectives from the sidelines as well. But of course they have their own un-stories.)
“When I bicycle up Bathurst, I am also pedaling up Boulevard Sébastopol, direction north on both. That’s how the body recognizes it, the incline is exactly the same degree.”
The reader bicycles up neither street nor boulevard, but even without blood pumping, we can recognize that it is not only a thoroughfare but an artery.
There is a physicality -another kind of feeling but more-than-feeling – behind all of this. That tightness of calf and thigh is a memory of something that came before but which exists no longer.
“Perhaps language anchors her like pinning a butterfly, too precisely for a creature made of air and flight.”
That experience is not only a feeling but something absorbed into muscle and sinew which leaves the rider changed. Restriction and constraint: limbs and stories tied to spaces and pages. Or, not.
“That’s my ambition, that breeze. Yes, it also means task accomplished, something that may lead to more similar work with easily achieved goals, and rent paid in the city I dreamed about and only knew from the films. But it also means simply: that breeze.”
Lydia Perović conducts that breeze, orchestrates it. Just as a conductor directs musicians.
One could say that All That Sang unfolds in the space which follows a performance, in the gap which settles over a crowd before there is any applause.
One could say the near-story is rooted in the space before the conductor’s hands erupt into motion. Or in the space between movements, in which the musicians keep their instruments poised and the conductor’s hands remain raised, signalling that there is more to come.
“That’s how I feel. I’ve been the badly written character in my own life ever since I’ve met you – seen you, actually, really taken you in, probably since Mozart’s C minor mass.”
When does it change, exactly: with the seeing, the meeting, or the taking in?
When is it lost, exactly: with the telling, the analyzing, or the naming? With the tiring realization “that really she can’t be in anybody’s story”?
Music is such a powerful force and in Lydia Perović’s second novel (I’ve read her first, Incidental Music, too) it could even substitute for emotion at times. Perhaps recognizing, as George Sand did, that one can only write things down after passion has cooled, that describing intensity is less effective than pinning it inside another frame. (I’m also reading Robert J. Wiersema’s Walk Like a Man, which chroicles his coming of age with Bruce Springsteen’s music. Music holds things differently than words and can be profoundly important for writers.)
All That Sang is a slim volume, easily read in an afternoon, but there is much to discuss in the wake of reading. What makes for a good story? How does one tell about what is better left un-storied? Why Mozart’s C minor mass? Why does it surprise us to consider women in the role of conductor (on and off orchestral stages)? What series of photographs could encapsulate the person we once spent every moment thinking of? What two streets align in our memories of passions? What’s the biggest space inside of us, and what did it once hold?
Is there a space on your bookshelf which a copy of All That Sang could fill perfectly?