“I want to think of this work as contoured. I want it to rise and fall.”*
Richard Froude, born in London, moved to the US in August 2002 at age 23. I was 24, having just moved back to New Orleans from five years out West. Because I knew no one in the city, I walked along the Mississippi after the sun had gone down—for the breeze that blew away the closeness of the Quarter, and for the lights of the ships. Maybe just for the movement.
“Dear Gretl: I know that an American book is a book of movement. I know that movement is only seldom accompanied by silence.”† And yet there is plenty of silence in Richard Froude’s books. I think that is what I admire about them. The pages end long after the text has. In the interval before you turn the page, you are always confronted by silence. It is a site for situating oneself in what one has just read—often, a sequence of non sequiturs or seeming-non sequiturs that nonetheless coalesce. That, too, I admire, for that, too, is a kind of silence, a kind of space. These are books of rhizomes, what happens when words look in a mirror. How we make sense of them has to do with which side we’re on.
The Passenger‘s first part, “The Margaret Thatcher Trilogy,” is a shuffling and a reshuffling; as befits a trilogy with four parts (imagine a game of musical chairs). Its components are numbered: “Question One” through “Question Seven,” “Phase One” through “Phase Seven,” “First Movement” through “Third Movement,” “Scene One” through “Scene Seven.” The First Movement’s
And I am older now. Old enough that we can marry.
I can buy you liquor, take you home and we can fuck.
There is no Nixon.
These are my clenched fists.
This is us, fucking.∆
is reconciled a page later in the Second:
I can buy you liquor, if you want. We can keep it in blue kitchen cabinets.
Catch our disgust in clenched fists.
. . .
I told you, I am older now.
I can buy you things with clenched fists.
Not only these things—liquor, cabinet, fists, Nixon—repeat, but all things cycle on and through the text. The book’s second part, “The History of Zero,” even begins in recursion: with a section titled “The Passenger.” FABRIC, too, has its obsessions: as “Preludes to the Last American Book,” the American looms large, but so does the book, so does the last. But I think these obsessions are meant to act as storylines, threads we are meant to take up and follow rather than evidence of a tragedy or the aftermath of a disarticulation.
The number of numbers is infinite; whatever you believe the largest to be, add one and be undeceived. And yet, our way of thinking about numbers reflects a paucity on our part, or else our pitiful scale: to create even inconceivable numbers, we draw on a limited palette, just ten digits, 0-9. Once we’ve reached “10,” we’re combining and then recombining already-used characters. Does this say something about our imagination? Does this say something about the limits of our world? I think Richard Froude is a glass-half-full man, not someone to lament a limit, but, like an Oulipian, to celebrate its constraint:
I’ve never been able to recognize constellations. At least, not as the figures they are purported to be. It always seemed like you could pick any group of stars and superimpose the image of a hunter, a crab, a ram upon it. I mention this because the constellation of Minneapolis, as seen from an aeroplane, most closely resembles a man in repose. There is a needle in his forearm.
It is almost impossible to completely remove redundancies from a sequence. They are present even in coded strands of DNA. I misunderstood this in the possibility that an individual human being may be described merely by incidental information. That is, we could exist as noise, as the redundancies contained in the encryption of something else unknown.**
Perhaps then, despite the poverty of our original (zero-point) imagination, our capacity for combination ought to astound us: “Hydrogen is a signature for water. Water is a signature for life.”†† God does not play dice, but it would seem that He has a set nonetheless.
“I have begun to think of this as a series of fluctuations,”∆∆ Froude tells us, leaving his “this” up to us. There is much “up to us,” but not in the sense of Choose Your Own Adventure, not in the sense of a puzzle or a riddle. It is more that there is a space for meditation in these sometimes disturbing narratives that many other books would have filled in, a silence that is too often marred by noise, redundancies. “Many of Sappho’s poems were torn into strips and used in mummification rituals. Only when the text was fragmented, was broken, could it contain the trappings of death, could it preserve.”*** What Froude preserves is something intensely personal and every bit as human as the remains Sappho’s verses protected. Somehow, a story gets told, but whether it is Froude telling it is not always certain. He challenges narrative: 10 does not necessarily follow 9; it can also be another name for 1. Interpretation is not all, but operation is important: “The interval is one of fertility, of terror and fertility. This is where the book is written.”†††
If there are limits, they aren’t the first thing I think of when reading Froude’s books. Unlike a mystery, where the solution approaches as the page-count dwindles, the viewpoint I thought I would find in closing FABRIC or The Passenger gets further and further away. Froude’s narrative style is every bit as expansive as one of his obsessive threads, the American West. FABRIC is not a Western, (and The Passenger certainly not) but perhaps these mostly-empty pages are reflections of that region’s huge sky. The books seem to extend outward from the self. Not boundless—clearly not—but created in such a way that the boundaries are too big to be visible, or else too small to merit our notice. When one looks out at the skyline of distant mountains just beyond the mesa, it isn’t distance one is thinking of, but scale, meaning. There is room for so many other words on these pages. But to pile them up would have meant only elevation. We need the sky to tell us that there are mountains. We need silence to tell us that we are moving. “Every book is an account of its own failure.”∆∆∆ Every reading, too, every review.
_ _ _
(*) FABRIC: Preludes to the Last American Book, page 40.
(†) FABRIC, page 82.
(∆) The Passenger, page 28.
(**) FABRIC, page 32.
(††) The Passenger, page 71.
(∆∆) The Passenger, page 65.
(***) FABRIC, page 91.
(†††) FABRIC, page 85.
(∆∆∆) FABRIC, page 73.