Apologies for the delay, I have been making my way through other reviews but am back on Calamari track now. To play catch-up, read the previous installments here…
1 / 39 P.S. AT LEAST WE DIED TRYING
…or just click through for a review of THE NIGHT I DROPPED SHAKESPEARE ON THE CAT, the seventh in this full-press review series of Calamari books.
John Olson’s story collection THE NIGHT I DROPPED SHAKESPEARE ON THE CAT was a strange reading experience. There were moments when I thought I wouldn’t make it all the way through & there were times when I couldn’t stop reading. Odd. This book is odd.
The dichotomy in the text arises from a style that, while uniform in its digressions & language-related risks, is widely variant in its results, making the book read like two books: one that is narratively-bound & clearly telling a story & another that reads more like an n+ experiment or some other form of Oulipo, a risk that all writers know sometimes works & sometimes doesn’t.
For example, there are wonderful & super-engaging moments like in “Gray’s Anatomy”:
‘It’s hard to like gray. It is inherently mournful. It smacks of death and prophecy and Macbeth. It lingers in the air like a raw uncertainty. It floats like an immense contusion above the earth, the residue of a collision between white and black, good and evil, being and nothingness. Gray is the color of thoughts. Thought is gray because it emanates from the brain and the brain the human brain is gray. Gray as a cloud when it is tinged with thunder. Gray as a cloud when it is tinctured with bulk. Borders and definitions collapse in gray. This is what makes thought gray. Ambiguity.’
Or from “Maps”:
‘A map of limbo lingers in incubation. A map of warmth is crimson and bright. If you need a map of Isaac Newton or Eugene O’Neill the best place to look is in gravity, reaction, or journey long into the night.’
These are the moments when I couldn’t stop reading Olson’s words – they drive & push & power me forward as a reader. But in other places, the strange derivations or charting of sounds & syllables & words is awkward & strange. For example, from “Today is for Detail”:
‘I was about to nail the harmonica reservoir to my necktie when I realized life is a palate soon scripted by a thermometer. I was one waterfall shy of a baluster requisition. It is not invisible to perpetuate a sample of this. Sweat is dry when it solves absence. These words, for instance, represent screams, limestone giggles ridged with administration. It isn’t deep to yawn at dinner. Leaves resemble thread in spacecraft even. Diamonds are less chromatic than amethyst but writing surrounds them with ginger.’
These are the places where I couldn’t stay with Olson’s language, the places where I wanted to (& nearly did) let go.
But if you hold on to THE NIGHT I DROPPED SHAKESPEARE ON THE CAT, you will be eventually enthralled by how Olson shapes & crafts phrases, and you’ll read lines like this that remind us how writers are carpenters, and carpenters build moments:
‘Everything we see in this world we see in sequence. Sequins. A chain of events. A necklace of noise. Succession. Series. Strings and upshots. Cause and effect. Spanish motorcyclists tumbling through the air.’
Check out John Olson’s book here.
Next up, Blake Butler’s EVER.
2 thoughts on “I Shot the Moon, Calamari Press, 7 / 39, THE NIGHT I DROPPED SHAKESPEARE ON THE CAT”
this is actually one of my favorite books that calamari has published and i absolutely cannot articulate why.
you did a good job here, though. better than i could.
this book definitely benefits from being re-read, when the expectations drop and the immersion starts. i return to this one over and over again, almost at random, and it’s like finding little rips in the space between things.
I think you are absolutely right too – this is a book you can simply pick up and read at any point and find a sentence or two to love.