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Book Review: REVELATION by Colin Winnette


Colin Winnette {lives here}
Mutable Sound, 2011

For some reason three is a good number. There’s a balance to three, a symmetry that seems to establish an axis. Three is triptych, three is trinity. With a title like REVELATION I feel like trinity is the more applicable to Colin Winnette’s first novel.

It’s a good book. There’s a weight to it that sits heavy and savory, like the first book you ever read.

Colin Winnette must’ve lived an entire life before deciding to write this book. It comes from the future. It spans across eras in a very direct and new way that uses plain and accessible language that still carries poetic cadence.

“I don’t know. No. Not a lot. I like science,” she said. “I like math and religion and that kind of thing too…”

“Could you say why you like those things?”

“Because they tell us why things happen… and why people do the things they do.”

(People wonder if I serve only the purpose of flattering writers and building up excitement of small press books. The thing is I stay away from ones that don’t hit the notes I need to hear. The ones that hit those notes, even for a little bit, I write about, and I’m thankful to all these books even if, in the end, I only gave them a couple TOEs. But seriously, writing isn’t like painting, writing isn’t about a single stroke, writing is strange hieroglyphs on a shiny blank page, floating, queued, immovable, indistinguishable, and there it is, forever, so explicit yet so hidden. Of course I write highly about the books I read and love, even if only for small stretches, I write highly about these books because I’m thankful for them. Theirs is a difficult task: to say something that spans across eras.)

Mutable Sound out of Chicago made this book. Thank you, Mutable Sound. Having seen both sides of the equation, I feel it’s the right thing to do: give my gratitude to the press that put this book into my hands. Books want to be read, that’s what matters most. Get me read, says the book. The book says, “Get me read!” And this message is embedded within the words inside the book, like a mouth with tape over it. Mutable Sound heard this book’s muted cry.

In their office, Marcus tied a new fly and spoke a length of dialogue quietly to himself as he did so. He’d set out to write a story about that summer. He started with an idea of how it would go, then he let the happenings of each day dictate the movement of the narrative. But now came the question of how to end it. He wanted the ending to be true. Or, he wanted to use an ending that could be true.”

Marcus, the pinnacle of the REVELATION trinities, tries to write a book one summer, and the book he writes is not REVELATION. REVELATION is a saga within a lifetime. It’s not meta fiction. It’s a third-person narrative that has no reflexivity. There’s youth; there’s bachelorhood; there’s the divorced father; there’s fruitless reunion; there’s hospitals; there’s grandfather, father, son; there’s flirting with death; there’s death and the piping horns of the apocalypse. REVELATION is the first book you’ve ever read, it’s a slightly more loquacious Shel Silverstein.

“This place is no place for kids. It’s stuffed to the brim with all kinds of the dead and dying. It gives the wrong idea about life, its different stages. It’s easy to confuse any two. But this,” Grand George pressed the tip of his fork into the table cloth, “and what he’s going through aren’t the same thing. Not really. You could write them on the same piece of paper and draw a line connecting them, sure. But what’s that line represent? Time?” He brought his fork up, held it to his eye a moment then brought it back down to the macaroni scoop. “There’s a lot more than time between us, is all.”

When you grow, the longer you grow, the easier it is to see the course of things. Colin Winnette was born in 1984, but he writes like he’s either lived from birth to death once before, or else is only an unaffected observer, born immutable to time. Maybe to really get to the heart of time you need to first become impervious to time, or at least convince yourself so much. In the Blues I think this is called “Meeting at the crossroads.”

* * *

Not much, but it did happen once, I felt a kind of systematic rendering of language: a sink hole’s cause is “a hollow filling up.”

* * *

The book starts with erratic weather that seems like it couldn’t quite happen in our world. It starts with fires that ravage for long spells, hail that breaks windshields, and then come disappearing oceans. It seems like Winnette’s world becomes increasingly estranged, not only less familiar but less plausible, until it is rational to start thinking this isn’t the same place I live in, this is another planet, and/or another time. I’m not sure how he does it, I think the word I want is defamiliarization, and Winnette manages this feat without ever obfuscating the story or sounding academic/esoteric.

This is a grounded book, earthbound, there’s no pretension, no airs to grandeur, no needless experimentation. Having said that, there’s also no feeling of spontaneity. While REVELATION doesn’t feel like a heavily plotted book, it doesn’t have what Marcus’s summer novel has. It’s precise, polished, a model example of husbandry. It’s a matter of taste, but for me this is the one thing I missed when reading REVELATION. It felt a little too mathematical and too modulated, too compressed.

Then REVELATION takes a turn toward the more prosaic. From fire and falling ice and receding seas, Winnette transitions into a story that tells of three generations.  There’s that number again: three, triptych, trinity. Even though Marcus is at the head of the trinity, he’s private, and not just in relation to the other characters in the book but also to me, the reader. There isn’t much of an inner dialogue in his case, but somehow, even in his aloofness, I could piece it together. The narrator helped me out at times.

His mind was swelling, and strong, and diffuse, and the confusion of his life was dissolving to a kind of crossbred simplicity.

This is a good book, says the echo, this is the first book you’ve ever read, an elemental book that relaxes your neck and relieves the tension in your traps. REVELATION is the quiet person in the crowded room, slowly drinking and drawing stares and increasing his/her importance.



April 18, 2012 11:56 am

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