A masterfully collaged prose object, Gabriel Blackwell’s Madeleine E. (Outpost19) defies categorization, privileging fusion and hybridity while also openly displaying its parts: essayings on the mind, on identity, on falling, on death, on marriage; obsessively scrutinous, seemingly frame-by-frame analyses of a classic psychological thriller; self-reflexive reveries on writing and, especially, not writing; deconstructions of patriarchy in the form of control of and/or violence against women, whether physical, emotional, psychological, etc. Like Alfred Hitchcock, one of this book’s many subject-characters/character-subjects, Blackwell “leaves holes” in his art, that is, in Madeleine E., a text with hundreds of ellipses, a constellation of dots pocking pages, signaling absences, voids, pauses, where multiple possible readings, connections of dots, as it were, can take place.
Structurally, the book takes some its cues from a number of sources, like David Markson’s endgame not-novels, Renata Adler’s Speedboat, Wittgenstein(who’s quoted throughout)’s gnomic fragments, and W. G. Sebald’s history-haunted counter-novels. Passages from a host of critics, writers, and artists, like Bakhtin, Berger, Bresson, Žižek, Lévi-Strauss, Martone, Nietzsche, and Sartre are stitched throughout, alternately commenting on the film, film itself, or art, the making of it, its purpose. Humorously self-deprecating and marked by a kind of knowing uncertainty even at its most erudite and virtuosic, the narrator’s tone and expansive range also often brings Enrique Vila-Matas and Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s books to mind. The narrator finds that Vertigo, the filmic text he’s sometimes dissecting, sometimes bemoaning how he isn’t dissecting it, is, like the self, not only mutable and multiple but ultimately inexhaustible. Even as the narrator futilely attempts to exhaust his subject, ostensibly Hitchcock’s film, he not exactly unwittingly but still surprisingly disturbingly “destroys” it (and by extension Madeleine E. itself) in Levi-Strauss’s sense, quoted here, destroys it in favor of “the one lasting presence, the point at which the distinction between meaning and the absence of meaning disappears: the same point from which we began.”
Madeleine E., if it is “about” anything, is about figuring out what the book is about, about making it even as it unmakes it, leaves unfinished what perhaps cannot possibly be started, a book that’s as much an open text—a text where multiple interpretations are not only possible but encouraged—as it is an ouroboric one, eating itself alive.
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.