Robert Lopez’s darkly comical collections and novels are full of bizarre, dissolute isolatos moving in and out of desultory relationships, talkative heads navigating through absurd situations, bleak states of mind and being, the mud and murk of day-to-day doldrums. All Back Full (Dzanc Books), Lopez’s fifth book, offers three such characters: a husband and wife and the man’s friend, who aren’t having it, who’ve had it with each other, each one talking to each other, talking at each other, around each other, as if the addressee weren’t there, as if they, the addresser, weren’t there, the “there” sometimes not there either, the “there” that’s sometimes there for the most part a nondescript kitchen in a “toxic” house.
Juxtaposed against the characters’ funny, odd, or banal conversations are these mini-encyclopedia-entry-like sections, among the subjects paraphilia, dolphins, Ancient Greeks, storm names, CPR, artificial respiration, asthma, Cape Cods and Colonials, Aristophanes, Georgia, seagulls, poodles, fibromyalgia, occupational therapy, trade unions, alcohol distillation, submarines, dementia, Ancient Carthage, Sherpas, the waltz, naturism, and more besides. You might think of these sections as screenshots of the husband’s “digital daydreaming”: the hours he spends drowning in—as opposed to merely surfing—the internet, getting lost in this or that “factoid.” They serve less as explanations than to make everything else far less certain, far more stressed, fractured, an array of fragments to shore against one’s ruins but no promises.
Subverting conventional dramaturgy, All Back Full interrogates what is arguably society’s most confining convention: marriage. How appropriate, if ironic, that it was published on Valentine’s Day. All Back Full doesn’t so much fuse the novel and the play as dissolve each genre, creating something not only different but disturbing, disorienting and reorienting. It’s that Barthelme-via-Oppenheim “strange object covered with fur,” which, in this case, breaks everything up and apart.
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.