Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Event-tempered against narrative repolarizations

Clara's body heaved a little, assuming the shape of a soundless sigh. Currents of emotion moved through the room.

My mother moved us to a subdivision when I was 11, a year or two before Rush immortalized the dreariness of conformant living. "Nowhere is the dreamer/ Or the misfit so alone." In my subdivision, everybody listened to Rush.

I hated it.

Subdivision, by J Robert Lennon, is weird and brilliant. Part videogame, part fairy tale. It's psychotherapy as written by Douglas Adams. It's Alice in Wonderland if it were an allegory about a grisly car accident. It's The Hearing Trumpet if it were about a young, professional modern woman.

It starts with a jigsaw puzzle. It fully occupies the massive table in the subdivision's guesthouse (why is she here?), and our protagonist is invited, even expected, to work on it. It's maybe three feet by five, but no box, no picture. Its pieces change shape, and the image appears to shift. As progress is made in some areas, other sections are undone. She must not allow things to delay her progress.

(I just bought an 8,000 piece jigsaw puzzle on eBay. Three feet by nine. The Sistine Chapel ceiling. Maybe it is a metaphor for my life. Maybe I will see the hand of god in it. I am saving it for the new house, a new project among others. I am preparing for a major puzzling accomplishment. Maybe I will paint my ceilings. I must make progress.)

"The problem ... with an itch," the man said, grunting and wheezing, "is that it isn't ... in one ... place." His voice, smoke-roughened, stirred a memory just out of reach.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I don't understand."

"An itch ... is a creation ... of the body ... and the mind." His face contorted with the efforts of his hand; the expression, again, struck me as familiar. "The mind ... expresses its need ... for simulation ... through the body. The ... body ... ugh ... tries to ... satisfy itself ... by scratching. But the itch ... is a phantom ... of thought. It moves ... to trick the body ... into gratification."

There's a shapeshifting bakemono, and a house built in a probability well, with windows that aren't event-tempered against narrative repolarizations. "Sometimes you'll see the future through them, or the past, or some alternate version of the present. But they really let the light in on sunny days."

Under the bed, our protagonist finds a marvelous pair of colour-changing shoes — a perfect fit, making her feel light, and strong. She lands a a job as a Phenomenon Analyst, which requires experience in the area of quantum tunneling, about which she knows nothing.

There's a child, who may or may not be hers. There's a solar-powered personal digital assistant, that appears to be evolving, throbbing.

It's completely surreal, and completely logical, a slow release of clues pointing the way to the obvious end, a journey through the subconscious for a reconciliation with tragedy.

The box, eventually found, reveals it to be an "8,000-piece deluxe mutable situation-specific matte-finish bilateral theta cardboard puzzle."

Subdivision will be facing off against Lauren Groff's Matrix in the opening round of the 2022 Tournament of Books in about a month's time.

His words incensed me, and it was time to give him a piece of my mind. I turned to him and said, "I don't know — maybe?"