Fugue State

By BRIAN EVENSON

Take as your foundation stones the young and brash Ian McEwan who wrote that macabre classic, The Cement Garden. Add a superstructure of Guy de Maupassant and Franz Kafka. Roof the whole edifice with Rod Serling and paint the dwelling with Harlan Ellison day-glo. Success! You?ve just built yourself the lurid, stylish, gothpunk haunted house that we call Brian Evenson. Evenson?s hypnotic new collection, Fugue State, features a troupe of obsessive characters trapped in fiendish neuro-labyrinths of their own devising — or in blandly malign and implacably insane bureaucratic mazes. But far from succumbing meekly to these traps, Evenson?s protagonists exhibit immense and quintessentially human energies: they may ultimately go down to defeat, but they do so without granting easy victories to their oppressors — even if the tormentor proves to be one?s own dark doppelgänger. Like Kafka?s stories, Evenson?s conceal a droll sardonicism beneath each moment of horror. In “Pursuit,” the haunted narrator finds himself stalked by his spectral ex-wives and thinks, “A man might be capable of standing up to one ex-wife, but two ex-wives is something no ex-husband wants to consider?.” “Invisible Box” opens with this sentence: “In retrospect, it was easy for her to see that it had been a mistake to have sex with a mime.” “There is, in every event, whether lived or told, always a hole or a gap, often more than one. If we allow ourselves to get caught in it, we find it opening onto a void that, once we have slipped into it, we can never escape.” So observes the narrator of “Desire with Digressions.” Evenson specializes in diving with mordant glee down such holes.