The Easy Chain
By Evan Dara
Evan Dara’s first novel, The Lost Scrapbook, was the winner of FC2’s National Fiction Competition. Richard Powers called it a vast achievement; Dara was compared by Publisher’s Weekly to William Gaddis. From this acclaim came, unfortunately, nothing and Evan Dara’s name seemed destined to join the multitudinous rolls of promising experimentalists from whom nothing is heard.
Until, of course, something was heard last summer when Evan Dara’s second novel, The Easy Chain, appeared as if by magic on bookstore shelves. Whether they were ordered or arrived in response to secret and fervent wishes, they came and they’re slowly but surely being read. With books being constantly thrown at us by publishing giants and marketers, there’s something to be said for a challenging novel (in several senses of the word) that arrives to quietly take its place.
The Easy Chain begins in characterization, apt because Lincoln Selwyn, the eerily pleasing protagonist, is so often in the public eye, the center of so many people’s attention. There’s a great deal of Gatsby about him, effortless charm and grace and serendipity and a brilliant career and—a few dozen pages in, anyway—none of the more tawdry scandals. He’s Golden except for his cough; that cough is subversive and poisonous in a body like his—it’s the fly in the gelatin or ointment or whatever flies get into and ruin. It’s very easy to get caught up in the Selwyn’s mystique, to be fascinated by his mysteries—like the cough, a strange search for his aunt, an undelivered package—but this book is more than a story, it’s a new way of telling stories.
Slowly, small sideshows sidetrack the novel’s flow. First, there are restaurateurs, then a children’s book author and a series of cough specialists and, in the haze of new characters, Lincoln Selwyn seems to fade from his place at the center of the novel. He’s still the center of discussion, he’s just no longer there. Reading further, time is lost as Selwyn disappears into the mire of other peoples’ stories. It’s here that Dara embraces the new, the experimental and variable, that so marked his first novel.
In his essay, “Conclusion: From the Other Side of the Fence, or True Confessions of an Experimentalist,” Gabriel Josipovici wrote of the assumption by critics that “there are writers and there are experimental writers; the experimental is a sub-branch of fiction, rather like teenage romances or science fiction perhaps, but differing from them in being specifically highbrow, and, like other highbrow activities. . . unconnected with the real world. . .” Let’s not pigeon-hole Dara; The Easy Chain is notable for bridging that gap. This is an experimental novel to be sure, but with traditional, familiar themes. In prose, in poetry, in e-mail, and with a few dozen blank pages, Dara is telling us a story we all know in a new and surprising way. The experiment is not something inaccessible—it is uncommon and outstanding. Selwyn is reminiscent of all the beautiful and mysterious and desperate young men that have ever been written about, from Gatsby to W. Somerset Maughm’s Larry and so on. It’s Dara’s methods that are new—new and generally successful.
Dara’s play with perspective, however, is the novel’s great success. Time, like the narration, is very fluid. We can begin at a cocktail party and float almost magically into Lincoln’s childhood, age with him, then drift through these meetings. It’s interesting and cerebral and only occasionally distracting. Various other characters are allowed to go on about their personal philosophies and beliefs. These asides, as I’ve already mentioned, are fragmenting the story in a manner not unlike early Pynchon, but very unlike Pynchon because our hero—such as he is— is present, listening to these people—of the reader, but out of the reader’s awareness.
Breaks, the devolution of structure, the changing viewpoints and new formats—these can inspire or confuse a reader, they can delight or confound. Often, books are ignored because they’re difficult, only to become unread classics. Get in on the ground floor: Dara’s books may become classics or they may not, but as surely as there will always be an avant-garde, Dara will be there and whatever new guard emerges, they will be sure to have read his books.
Reviewed by Jeff Waxman
The Easy Chain by Evan Dara
Aurora Publishers, 2008.
Paper, 502 pgs, $16.95
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