IN & OZ: A Novel

IN & OZ: A Novel

by Steve Tomasula


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226807447
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/30/2012
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Steve Tomasula is the author of a number of novels, including The Book of Portraiture and VAS: An Opera in Flatland, also published by the University of Chicago Press. His new-media novel TOC received the Mary Shelly Award for Excellence in Fiction, and the Gold Medal, Best Book of the Year, in the eLit Awards.  He teaches fiction writing and twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature at the University of Notre Dame. A Howard Fellow, he lives in Chicago, where he is completing a novel about extinction.

Read an Excerpt


a novel
By Steve Tomasula

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2012 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-80744-7

Chapter One

The dogs of IN are snarling again, snapping at each other and breaking their teeth against the bars of their pen.

They are mean dogs, dirty and of indeterminate breed but with the color and size of dogs associated with fascism. Their owner, similar in look and temperament, hates dogs. He only keeps them because he also keeps thousands of shiny tools that he needs for his one real passion, working on junk cars, in the garage behind his house, beside the pen he has made of welded rebar where the dogs spend their days fighting and barking and fucking and shitting and running back and forth, irritating themselves and each other until night falls and Mechanic puts them in the garage to protect the tools.

Chapter Two

There are no dogs in OZ. Or rather, there are no real dogs. There are police dogs. And sheep dogs. And drug-sniffing dogs and watchdogs. But there are no car-chasing dogs. No garbage-can-upsetting dogs. No, need it be said, poet dogs. The streets are very clean and traffic moves at the speed of commerce, which is to say, as fast and smooth as a concept car on a victory lap as one woman, a Designer, might have put it, had she been at her drawing board instead of shopping.

Lapdog in hand, she entered one of the bookstores of OZ and immediately felt herself become more serious, informed by tradition, by quality. Being a designer, she was not oblivious to the role that the store itself played in this sense of herself that could be read in the body language of everyone browsing the aisles. Like them, she felt her motions slow to the dignified pace of a curator, or librarian, influenced as they were by the leisurely pace of music that played on a loop—beautiful, egghead music that she would never listen to at home but enjoyed here because it had been mastered somehow to include only the bright tones and none of the darker, pathetic notes usually associated with music of that sort. Greek columns ran up the walls to where portraits of authors looked down from spots that were too high to hold product: portraits of difficult, aesthetic high-wire walkers from the last century as well as contemporary authors of cookbooks, based-on-fact thrillers, and other works that could actually be found in the store—all drawn in the style of engraving associated with the dead presidents on monetary notes so that even non-readers could understand their value.

Designer found it all particularly moving today since this was the day that the book featuring some of her own work was to appear in stores: a glossy, coffee-table art book documenting a recent showing of Automobiles that had been mounted at the Museum of OZ Art, and that was to have her best-selling sports coupe on the cover.

Approaching the books, she put down her dog so she would have both hands free and took her place among the other shoppers. Book after glossy book devoted to the beauty of Auto flowed by, their cover photos so slick that they seemed to be works of art in their own right—portraits of stretch limos with tricked-out doors, spray painted in lollipop greens and purples, car hoods that were Sistine chapels of airbrushed saints and angels, baby-blue clouds of acrylic heavenly hosts—a stream of books and magazines so hypnotically beautiful that they made it nearly impossible to select just one.

Indeed, in OZ, they had so refined the art of giving the customer what he or she wants that there are no books available that are not wanted by everyone. To Designer, like most of those too young to remember another way, this was just how it was—a state of nature. And in fact, it was the result of a sort of evolution: in the early days, a book would be displayed on a shelf only so long as it sold at a certain popular level. But as the speed of commerce increased, and the business of books (plural) decreased the time any one book (singular) might remain on a shelf, the bookshelves themselves began to lengthen, then move, evolving into extremely long conveyer belts that carried books directly from printing presses through the stores where customers were to this day compelled to quickly make their selection the way they might select sushi from a passing boat in a Japanese restaurant. That is, as with raw fish, freshness became the dominant concern. So instead of re-circulating back through the kitchen then out past the customers again, "printed matter" that no one plucked from the stream on a single pass continued on its one-way journey through the stores and into the recycling plants of IN. There it was shredded, and turned into products that people might find more useful, such as humorous calendars, greeting cards or the paper cups used in the coffee shops that took up most of the actual square footage of each bookstore. Since movies, cars, bottled water, perfume, art and all forms of entertainment were sold in exactly this way, culture had become like time in OZ—always the same, though no customer could ever dip his or her toe into the same stream twice. And without anyone even noticing, dogs, real dogs, somehow vanished.

In OZ, revolving doors are thought of with the nostalgia usually reserved for train stations.

Chapter Three

The Mechanic's dogs are half mad, starved for attention as they are, crazed from hunger in order to "give them that edge." They go berserk whenever they catch sight of him, which is hundreds of times a day as he goes back and forth between his cinder-block house and his cinder-block garage.

Not long ago, Mechanic had been deaf to all of this. Though he passed them so often he had worn a rut in the yard between the house and the garage, he never so much as glanced at the dogs and their terrific noise. While neighbors of a man like this might be expected to be incensed at his neglect, by the racket of two huge dogs fighting in a pen all day, this man's neighbors are not. Before he got the dogs, they know, his garage was broken into. And tools stolen. So they accept the wet stench of dirty dogs and their shit, and the racket, and the fact that the yard looks brown and dead as if it were winter the year round—they dismiss these and many other "intangibles" for the greater good of the tools.

That is, they, as do all good citizens of IN, understand.

In IN, the Tractor-Trailer is King, and the Mobile Home Queen.

Chapter Four

Just as soldiers or nudists are able to identify each other by their dress, so a wordless language developed in OZ that allowed even the thinnest of demographic slivers to find mates, identify enemies, and do all the things people must do in order for their work-a-day lives to unfold. Many and diverse mouths contributed to the development of this language but the dominant voice issued from its clearest example: The essence of OZ Building in which Designer worked, and which was in fact so tall that its shadow fell 'round the world. From a distance, this building had the aspect of a castle in the sky, its granite skin glittering in the sun. From her studio at its top, the world appeared Lilliputian below, a body of lesser skyscrapers and roads and bridges, including a rusty hump of a girder bridge that rose high above the flatland in the distance where it sutured OZ to IN.

Designer liked to take the art book whose cover sported one of her cars and stand it up on the windowsill, then contemplate the disjunction in scale created by the juxtaposition: the car on the cover, the simulacrum of a car, looked large, up close as it was, while outside the window, the real cars down below appeared tiny, and somehow this relationship seemed to hold more truth than it would if she were to take the photo of the car down to the street and let the real cars run over it.

Though she had won many awards for her designs of auto bodies, secretly, she never thought of herself as a designer of autos at all. True enough, her curvaceous fenders and hoods did mask the grotesque viscera of cars. But they did so in the way that an arty dress or designer eyeglasses were more of a language than an article of clothing or medical aide—a dominant language, the way French had once been the tongue of diplomacy, or Latin of conquest. If she wasn't giving desire form—and shaping the world by doing so—what exactly was she or any designer doing? Isn't this why women's blue jeans came in so many versions: The Flare (Slung Way, Way Low); The Boyfriend (The relaxed Comfort of His Jeans); The Curve (Show Off YourS); The Capri (Gypsy Styling); The London Jean (High, High Inseam); The Carpenter (Baggy with Hammer Loops); The Hip-Hop (Trés Gangsta); The Natural (everybody's Favorite)? ... each body she designed, then, was a body that her drivers could take as their own, and people could change their selves by changing what they drove. New immigrants to OZ could acquire the OZian Dream of assimilation by buying the forest-green or golden-rod Family Vans all families in OZ drove. Rebels could "fight the power" by buying flashy-red off-road vehicles. In either case they were beautiful products, and people made themselves beautiful by using them. And that was what she actually designed, beautiful people. A beautiful world.

In OZ, Fulfillment was as simple as the swipe of a charge card, Desire baroque as its codes.

Chapter Five

One day in IN, Mechanic was lying in sludge beneath a car, utility lamp tight in his teeth, when something within him snapped. No sooner had he gotten the filthy-black underbelly of the car unbuttoned than he found himself staring into the gleam of silver gears, radiant with honey-gold lubricant. Though he had seen gears like this thousands of times before, it had never once occurred to him how eloquently their polished metal teeth explained his life: their mesh and power ratios may as well have been engineers, and foundry men, all on a shaft, with machinists, and mechanics, as his father had been, and the farmers and cooks, as his mother had been, who fed the factory workers, and highway builders who made it possible for everyone to get to jobs that brought into existence the need for marvels such as cars which needed transmissions which needed gears which needed him. So intense was the wonder caused by this glimpse at the world and his place in it that Mechanic couldn't have been more agape had he been the fish that spends its life completely ignorant of "sea" until it found itself pitched gasping onto the beach; or a child, who upon overturning a rock and finding grubs reducing a rotten apple to dirt is able to think for the first time, "That apple is I." It was as if he had stumbled upon one of those forces that guide equally the planets in their orbits and the flight of an arrow—a force that had been there all along, making the visible what it was, though the force itself remained invisible, unspeakable, unrecognizable. Until now.

Trembling, and not knowing what else to do, he repaired the transmission and bolted it shut.

But as time went on, it became increasingly difficult for him to forget about what he had seen. Standing before customers who tried to describe the vapor lock plaguing their cars by making a hacking cough, or customers who, with the erudition of medieval peasants on the topic of thermodynamics, explained to Mechanic the symptoms of a slack timing chain by imitating a spastic tic, he came to understand that the ignorant sought him out not for enlightenment but solely to make the profound inner workings of Auto invisible: to fix whatever rattle or misfire or stall it was that had brought some offending fuel pump or brake drum or other mechanism before him so that he could return it to the dark and they could go on being fish who wouldn't think about the sea until it broke again.

Perhaps it was the continual barking of the dogs that finally got to him. Or the continual whine of tires on the toll-road bridge that the man lived troll-like below. The neighbors blamed it on the strain he had been under during the prolonged dying of first his father, then his mother, both from the unrelenting ugliness of the steel mills and oil refineries, and the endless barrel and crate and gunpowder and acetylene factories that permeated IN, and so permeated its citizen-employees, filling first their souls, then their lungs with a rust-colored stain. In any case, Mechanic found he could no longer go on as he had. He reached the point where he couldn't even pretend he cared if the autos left in his care were ever set "right." The street rodders and kustom kar rebuilders who came to him were a catalyst in this, escaping into their fantasies of chrome oil pans and black-lit leafsprings, airbrushed tattoo-art of virgins on hoods, skulls in the doorjambs, bodies so beautiful that they made the essence of Auto completely invisible.

Indeed, fitting a chromed manifold onto a gold-plated block, he began to be weighted down by his own culpability, his own—yes, moral sellout was not too strong a word.

So the next time a customer brought in a transmission for repair, he unbolted it from the chassis where it hung bat-like in darkness beneath the car. Then he remounted it upside down. Now, the gearshift lever which had previously stuck up between the bucket seats inside the car protruded from the car's underbelly while the gears themselves were exposed on the inside of the car where they were all quite visible, dangerously visible, to both driver and passengers.

"What the hell!" shouted the owner of the car upon his return.

Their argument ended with Mechanic throwing his customer out, keys after, the man's oaths to bring lawyers raining down confused by the wild snarling of the dogs flinging themselves against their pen to get at him.

A brief lexicon of words useful in IN: Blood Sausage. Carcinogenic. Steam Pipe.

Chapter Six

Fenders flowed from her Conté crayon so fluidly that without even trying, Designer could doodle out a decade's worth of auto designs so that when thumbed in flip-book fashion, their tail fins would shrink, a Dimetrodon evolving into a salamander, before growing back into dinosaur-sized scale. Advanced Marketing loved her. But she herself began to feel as if there was something hollow, something missing in her sketches. And therefore in her life. As others in her office sat at their desks, their heads inside the Virtual reality Helmets that let them try out 3-D visions of the autos she designed, she drifted away on the clouds, allowing herself to become lost in the elevator music that played continually in her corporately-sleek office.

As every architect knows, the taller a building becomes, the more of its interior must be dedicated to elevators and their cables and lifting apparatus. And in order to make The essence of OZ Building the tallest in the world, and thereby have it speak superiority over all other companies and their "second-rate" skyscrapers, it had been necessary to devote the entire interior of this building to elevators. The hallways were elevators, the closets were elevators, the stairwells were elevators, the elevators were elevators, of course, but so were all of the offices, and Designer and the others who worked in these offices spent their days gliding up and down, serenaded by elevator music as they sat motionless at their desks, gunning engines and roaring around the room in virtual-reality cars, or applying the formulas that would spinoff last season's style into next year's must-have rage.

In OZ, there has never been a romantic comedy that was not This Season's Funniest Tender Movie!

CH7[ Art had nothing to do with it. Even after one lawyer accused him of that crime, Mechanic maintained that art had nothing to do with what he did. It was simply that having grasped the essence of Auto, he could no longer participate in the lie that was Not-Auto, the lie that blindered people from the beauty of the Truth that resided beneath the false beauty they mindlessly used to tool about their work-a-day lives. And if making them see meant making their cars inoperable, in the way that a hammer was most itself when broken, so be it.

He had come to that realization the time one of his own hammers broke while he was using it to beat the fender of a customer's car into a shape that could never be taken for granted again. During his entire life he had taken that hammer for granted, even though it was the one true heirloom he had inherited from his father's father's father, by way of his father's father, via his father. When he needed to tap free a cotter pin, he would reach for the hammer without even thinking, use it, then return it to its place with no more notice than he would give his lungs during a breath. But once the hammer broke, he saw that it was only when broken that he missed it, sorely missed it, which is to say, see its hammerness for what it was. And so it was with his?—

(Continues...) ]CH7

Excerpted from IN&OZ by Steve Tomasula Copyright © 2012 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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