Monday, February 21, 2011

Silk Egg:Collected Novels (2009–2009), Eileen R. Tabios

(Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-84861-143-6)

Eileen Tabios is an innovator in the best sense of the word.

If her impressive list of publications, multi-media projects, and awards were not proof enough, one need only consider her development and promotion of the Hay(na)ku form, which has spawned three anthologies and several works from individual writers. If even that is not enough, one would be hard pressed to discount her place at the forefront of the post-postmodern language and literature movement after reading (and engaging with) Silk Egg.

Having read many and reviewed several of Tabios’ works, I have been most impressed and enthused by the requirements made on the reader (or reviewer) to partner in the product being created. This, to me, is what keeps the very short “novels” (and their even shorter chapters) from being just another experiment in what is alternately called, among other names, “Nano-fiction,” “microfiction,” and “flash fiction…”

This growing movement of short work has its roots in a famous Hemingway story, the entirety of which is: For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Richard Brautigan (whose novel, The Hawkline Monster, according to my background research for this review, was the catalyst for the Hay(na)ku form) also worked in the ultra-short form, and now, in the age of 45-character Tweets, brief Facebook updates, and some literary agents requesting synopses of entire novels in 100 words or less, it is a tool most writers have in their toolkit.

These are different, digital days, and all but gone are the rich wordsmithed novels of the Victorian and Edwardian age, when books were thick and wordy because they were expensive and had to last the reader a good long while.

At the nexus of that Here and this Now is Silk Egg, a place where you don’t swim in the words as in days of old, but the spaces in between.

This collection of micro-novels ends with the one with which the project began—Novel Chatelaine. This set of short chains on a belt used for carrying keys, a thimble, a sewing kit, and so on is a metaphorical image Tabios has used before. The more I read, the more I am convinced that we, the Readers, are the locks into which the various and sundry keys are meant to enter.

Another recurring source of inspiration for Tabios is Jorge Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel” (which also inspired Umberto Ecco’s Name of the Rose), a geometric wonder of a library wherein is contained all the possible combinations of words for every book ever written, or yet to be. Picturing this wondrous place one cannot help but to also imagine the weathered librarians, hunch-backed monks, rebellious demons, be-spectacled book collectors, and half-mad writers searching for new inspirations in its leaf-laden passages…

It is here, in this chamber, this mansion of the mind, that one best sits while reading Silk Egg, peering through the windows of hotels and apartments, restaurants and lighthouses, vineyards and wine cellars in places ‘round the world, with their self-isolated population of affluent and emotionally detached men and women reaching across chasms of hurt and apathy to try and connect with one another. Their places of cold confrontation and passive habitation are dressed in silk and pewter, rose and diamond, jade and moss, snakeskin and ruby, linen and leather, tulip and truffle, and opium and orchid.

They try and fail, and try again, their short-armed gestures and hollow words falling between the spaces, back into the library, where they reconstitute in new forms and better possibilities as we grab and grasp and turn them to our use.

Those who bemoan the death of the book and of good writing itself need only keep up with Tabios’ growing collection of innovative and deeply engaging books to know that this is far from the case.

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