Recent Reads: “Dark Property” by Brian Evenson

Dark PropertyThis is so out of my normal range of literary fiction, I feel a bit lost. The book has an intelligence which you feel immediately, though a more cohesive assessment will have to come later after a reread. What I can say: this book is approaching language in intriguing and innovative ways.

Let’s say your novel’s set in some vague apocalyptic landscape. All of the usual signifiers of country, colloquialism, and culture are gone. What is to constitute your third-person voice? You could go the biblical route, à la Cormac McCarthy in The Road, though this implies connotations you may prefer to avoid. What if, like Beckett, you used exact diction that acts as if all connotations were voided, leaving only the original denotation? Wouldn’t that be a “truer” method, and a way to shirk the trappings of early-aught years writing styles? (As a metaphor, one could say it’s akin to removing all those bellbottoms from 1970s scifi movies.)

Evenson writes in this style. It’s challenging, and slowgoing, but so damn rewarding. Dark Property reveals its world in small steps, allowing the reader room to breathe, to cough, and get a little nervous. Once you realize why the young protagonist is carrying a dead baby in a backpack across a ruined landscape, well, you’ll be glad the author gave you time to prepare yourself. And like the best novels of ideas, the questions raised here continue to develop in your head long after the last page.

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