Drain, by Davis Schneiderman, Triquarterly Press: Northwestern University Press, 2010, http://www.nupress.northwestern.edu/Title/tabid/68/ISBN/0-8101-5215-0/Default.aspx, 259 Pages, ISBN 0-8101-5215-0 / $22.95
In David Schneiderman’s new novel, DRAIN, the world has gone to shit. Lake Michigan has mysteriously drained, baring the scorched earth now labeled the Wildland-Urban Interface. Here, several factions of survivors fight over land pocked with perpetually burning fires. Here, groups like the Cult followers of visionary Fulcrum Maneuvers, the super-corporation Quadrilateral, and the desert pirates Blackout Angels clash for control. Here, ‘emptiness has its own phylum.’ Here, there are few things of value left, and we retreat into the language of the landscape.
Though set in a world more akin to Frank Herbert than William Burroughs, Schneiderman’s prose screams through caverns of linguistic experimentation. The fragmentary echoes crash into each other and form wholly new concepts. It writhes and scratches every parenthetically hooded eyeball, gouges hyperbolic mouths filled with ellipses. It conjures images so extreme, yet so concise, that it almost substantiates the concept of a Higher Being in this land where “the sky[…] turns from a placid, smoky white to a polluted canvas streaked with pastel red, as if a god who would never exist in a way [the character] Qui can comprehend painstakingly bleeds itself out of the picture.”
For people like me, who generally read more plot-based stories (read: stuff with guns and machetes), it might be a challenge to find an entrance into DRAIN. The writing is taut, so much so that despite an arresting opening scene, I skimmed the surface for a handful of pages, until I found a seismic rift between paragraphs and fell through the page, down into Schneiderman’s images. Inhaling the dry dust of letters, I wandered through the arid textual landscape, dodging the book’s rogue pirates and capitalist conquistadores. I found myself curled around myself, a textual ouroboros, reading and rereading the sentences, sucking dry every bit of syntax-marrow.
I discovered I’d traded places with those in the book, possibly Mr. Panaflex, when he said, “Touch someone’s quote individual skin unquote long enough, and you can predict the response. Try it sometime and you’ll forget where your flesh ends and the other begins…a real interesting unquote relationship based not upon categories such as quote mutual affection unquote or experience but upon the proximity of flesh.” I realized I was inhabiting a metafictional quote on the metafictional page and now looked up at Mr. Panaflex, reading me.
Schneiderman’s narrative isn’t driving, but I realized that there is no other way to tell this tale. I realized that a story told at a cracking pace would rob the novel of its disfigured beauty. That, by the time we reached the last page, the precisely blemished prose would have evaporated, scorching itself to dust to become part of the barren bed of Lake Michigan. By traveling through his world at a slower speed, Schneiderman allows us to fills the space between his words, and just watch.—Nik Korpon
An excerpt of DRAIN is available at Triquarterly Online.