by Carmiel Banasky
Dzanc Books, 2015
Have you ever had that moment when you have to take a step back and marvel at unsuspecting brilliance? Well, this book was my moment. Carmiel Banasky’s novel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop, is, in a word, indescribable. What I mean to say is that to try and explain this picture of lives colliding would be to diminish the spark of madness hidden within its pages. Therefore, I would like to put forth a request: you must question everything that I say and you MUST go in search of your own truth, “subjective and hairy” (63).
The core of this novel is the core of us all—a burning need to connect with another person, even if it’s forbidden, even if she forgets you, even if she disappears. It is the search for her, for Nicolette, “she was there, and her flesh was sweaty, and she was smiling, and she held me so tight I thought she’d break my ribs. We gripped and pulled our bodies together…We couldn’t become the other” (373). And then she is gone, but West Butler does not forget her. He cannot forget her because ten years earlier, he saw her commit suicide: “the wildflowers dripped from my brow. Something inside me was rousing from a long sleep. Awakened by a twang that said home. And then she jumped” (83). How is this possible? How could Nicolette have died when they were in high school but then meet West while he is in a psychiatric hospital a decade later? Though the answer does not matter, and though logic really plays no part, West devotes his life to finding the portal that he believes allows Nicolette to time travel; he devotes himself to loving her. People say he is crazy because of the voices in his head, because of his paranoia that the Jewish mafia is watching him, but maybe he is the only one that has it right: “I must lower my dosage…I can barely hold it in my head. It makes so much sense I’m scared of it. But I will find the truth. I will find Nicolette. And you will help me, Loyal Voices” (104).
His first clue is a painting commissioned in 1959 that depicts a woman, Claire Bishop, falling to her death. The painting haunts Claire, who grew up believing she would one day go mad. She sees herself mutilated on the cobblestones, the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Yet she can’t help but be drawn to the painter that is named Nicolette: “She slipped her fingers along Claire’s lips, her chin and neck, her lips again. Claire felt the heat of Nicolette’s face, closer now” (37). Claire obsesses over this painting, as West will obsess over it forty five years later.
It is this painting that connects everything, everyone, even you. It brings out the raw humanness that we crave and thus the characters become people that sit next to us on a park bench or, more aptly, who sit next to us on an airplane screaming that we all have to jump. I get annoyed with the characters, I scream at them, I love them, and I want them to be loved. These characters cannot be rushed, however. They demand your attention and your time. Banasky creates these parallel and colliding universes by saturating the pages with heady descriptions so that a mere passage transports you to a different ‘everywhere’ and ‘everywhen.’ This story is a story that you must savor, like a moment from which you never want to let go.
But maybe Banasky IS calling us to let go, to let go of “the normal people with their normal briefcases and lunch bags. They have no idea who they are. They don’t want to know” (197). Her words, then, are her defiance against banality because no matter how absurd Claire or West or Nicolette may seem to be, they’re still living and they’re still breaking the laws of the Universe. They still make the jump: “I feel the grass slicing along my ankles as I run, the air whipping the hairs on my face, the edge of the bluff on the ball of one foot and then the other. And then nothing. Nothing. I am in the air. I am the air. I am wildly open” (330). Banasky asks that we be open, too. Open to something that seems impossible but that might just turn out to be something extraordinary: “Here, the sky is forever in front of you…Here you are so alive. You are alive, you are alive, you are ready. Dive in” (398).