The Sky Conducting by Michael J. Seidlinger
Civil Coping Mechanisms
The Sky Conducting by Michael J. Seidlinger, published this March by one of my favorite presses, Civil Coping Mechanisms, is a hell of a book. Seidlinger, despite being only 26, is the author of three previously published novels, all of which I’ve devoured. He’s slowly grown on me as I’ve had the pleasure to witness his maturation with each progressing novel.
The Sky Conducting, coming in at over 300 pages, is a challenging read in terms of both plot and scope but, ultimately, a satisfying one. Lately I’ve been reading dystopian/apocalyptical novels, and this one stands up there with the best of them. Seidlinger’s version is of an America in the not too distant future, one on the downslide of its power and splendor. All systems are, if they haven’t already, failed, and people are migrating in unison—massive pilgrimages across the land are taking place. Familiar territory for sure, but when told through Seidlinger’s talented eye, a uniquely disturbing vision of a bleak future.
I read it in multiple sittings, which isn’t to say it wasn’t entertaining enough to keep me captive but that it was gripping that I needed a break, some space from it. Thoughts of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Jose Saramago’s work came to mind during these respites, my mind seemed to build up Seidlinger in the moments between readings and then a funny thing happened. When I returned to the book my expectations were exceeded each and every time.
For me, much like in real life, the joy wasn’t in the result but the journey. And this journey had a “Book Of Eli,” the Denzel Washington movie in 2005, mysticism to it. I felt many things while reading this book, I felt dirty, somehow covered with particles of a falling Earth, taking on the misfortunes and struggles of the people trying desperately to carve out a new, safer, life for themselves.
The prose is tight and spare, threatening to uncoil and bring the whole intricately built tale crashing down at any moment. The way that Seidlinger structures his text to mirror the events that he’s portraying is pure genius and, in my mind, is the real beauty of this otherwise-bleak book. The text is broken up into small fragmented paragraphs, often of no more than a few sentences, creating a feeling that the story, the people in it are combustible, somehow on the verge of being broken.
The father and the daughter pass by a series of skewered bodies.
Each body has a pike has a price.
Each body is being sold in replacement for a proper burial.
Crossed out on their signs, burial written in replacement for passage. They were once people once looking to bargain their way off this rock.
Now they are bodies of the free exchange.
This book haunted me long after finishing it. I feared for my safety, I was left wondering how I would respond if judgment day were to arrive tomorrow, if I were forced to struggle for my survival. Would I just give up?
The Sky Conducting is my favorite book of Seidlinger’s yet. I suspect that I’ll be changing my tune, though, when he releases his next.
Go out and get this book right now. Read it, give it your mother for her book club and scare the crap out of the neighborhood elders. Spread the gospel of Seidlinger, his work is worthy of it. Take heed to his warnings, read this book as a manual. Devour his words with a big glass of whiskey at hand. Much like the liquid, this book will haunt you, leaving you exhilarated in a late night flurry of emotions and, by the end, bruised and beaten, aching for some more to relieve the pain inflicted.—Patrick Trotti