I’ve never read a book like it. Like this. This is described on the cover as “a miniature but infinite novel” and I thought that was a bit naff – but no, that’s it. Although it isn’t at all a novel. But I guess calling it one, or deciding it to be some sort of novel, an anti-novel as much as anything, probably works better than suggesting it to be some extrapolation of the prose-poem ideal or just a set of very short stories. It’ll work better for sales anyway.
Will Eaves has written novels – but also poetry. And here, with The Absent Therapist, he seems to aim (and reside) somewhere between the two. These are short narratives, some just one line long, nothing over a page and a half; snapshots, overheard conversations, different voices huddling in around one another. There’s very little comfort from the huddle too. It’s a lot of chatter and clatter around alienation.
The observations are startling – brilliant. And so often very funny. Eaves is able to mock and celebrate the truly bizarre, unique existence of the human being; that weird thing called family. How we can’t ever truly know what any one other person is thinking, and that thinking we might is often the biggest insult if not a mistake.
But he also allows himself space to simply make some great jokes, cold, harsh, hilarious.
One short – short – study features “a wonderful story…about some man who came round for sex and said, Give me a blow job, then’. And Terry said, ‘That’s not very romantic’, and the man sighed and said, All right. Give me a blog job in the rain.’”
Sex is one of the preoccupations treated as merely a theme, albeit a recurring one. Eaves has a lot of fun using sex, or discussion of it, and around it, as background prop or foreground distraction. It’s sometimes the unspoken issue, his characters reveal so much about mindsets, their own, the author’s too – many of the pieces have a memoir feel to them – and yet sometimes we end up drawn to, or go back to revisit and understand the bits that were left out.
There’s also a lot of talk around why we’re here – and where, in fact, we are. And it’s here, distilling heady philosophy and both dressing up and unpacking obfuscations that we get to see Eaves’ great poetic strengths and sensibility.
This is one standalone piece:
If the vacuum were not so complete, the sound of every culture speeding by, from bacteria to late macro-sentient galactic entities, would be that of a cistern filling in the ears of the creator, the soft flare of emptiness nixed and life’s brief quelling of the silent storm, which rages on and on.
I returned to that passage more than almost any other in the book. Oh, well, that and the story about ET, about Eaves (or the character that might not be him at all – but probably is) remembering being choked up by the film, how subsequent viewings still speak to him. And how that’s ruined somewhat by the memory of his father’s dismissal of the movie and surrounding franchise; his dad barking out about some stupid puppet; “some rubbery fucking thing” and how he would never see it, refused to see it.
But you need to take it as part of the whole, there are several read-aloud moments, many of the pieces except well. But the accumulative power of this book – of taking it all in, seeing not a hair out of place, sensing a strange and powerful madness within and around the writing and selecting of these pieces, the placement – is when you really see the magic. The writing is technically flawless, vivid, cruel and wonderful. It’s so often as good as it gets.
Whatever this is – whether novel/anti-novel or just a twisted stop-start journey of nearly short-stories – it’s a mini-masterpiece. And it contains – or is barely able to contain and control – multitudes.