Dorothy, a publishing project, 2010
Paperback, 136pp., $16
Reviewed by Paula Koneazny
An unnamed protagonist arrives in a fictional city-state called Ravicka where she meets people, has adventures, and then departs without, seemingly, really having been anywhere or accomplished anything. The opening epigraph from Samuel Beckett serves well as a compass : "something has to happen, to my body . . . which never . . . wished for anything, in its tarnished universe, except for the mirrors to shatter . . . the magnifying, the minifying, and to vanish in the havoc of its images." Magnifying and minifying aptly describe the challenges encountered by both narrator and reader. A visit to Ravicka becomes a tour of a land of smoke and mirrors, a Through the Looking Glass experience in which the story is as much a shape-shifter as is the sexual self. Its hard-to-pin-down quality doesn't, however, make Renee Gladman's short novel Event Factory a flawed narrative.
In Ravicka, the color yellow is pervasive; sometimes tender or empty, at others, more a green or brown. When Ravickians are healthy, they breathe yellow in and out. It's the color of the sun, but perhaps not our sun, although as the narrator reminds us, this isn't a different world than ours, since she arrived here on an airplane and that's also how she will leave. How Ravickians themselves leave remains a mystery, even though they appear to be abandoning Ravicka faster than the narrator can "stamp it" with her "tourism." (101)
The narrator is a linguist. She speaks seven languages, including several dialects of Ravic, but discovers that speaking the language isn't sufficient: "If only traveling were about showing off your language skills, if only it did not also demand a certain commitment of body communication, of outright singing and dancing--I think I would be absolutely global by now." (42) She may arrive accidentally (or not), but once in Ravicka, she embarks on numerous quests. What she's looking for changes as she changes location (place is primordial here; time more incidental, except when it's time to eat or "time to fuck." 23). She is more tourist than scholar. In search of both the Old City and Downtown, where she expects to find skyscrapers (after all she's seen them on postcards and from windows), she's led astray by false directions, as well as by erroneous and discarded maps. She seeks architecture and, above all else, what she calls "convivium." (36) She finds and then loses her guide and lover Dar. She also searches for the Ravickian literary masterpiece, Matlatli Doc, hoping it will lead her to its author, and through her, a better understanding of Ravicka.
Matlatli Doc, with its title that's almost an alliteration of Melville's Moby Dick, "is famous for its pace: nothing happens, nothing happens, then everything is 'said' to happen though nothing happens around that saying, then the book ends, and throughout it all there is this shouting." (86) Substitute "gesturing" for "shouting" and this synopsis pretty nicely describes Event Factory itself. Ravic, the language spoken in Ravicka looks vaguely Slavic. The fact that its Old City has been in existence for seven hundred years, brings to mind Krakow, Poland which not long ago celebrated its 750th anniversary. Ravicka also carries traces of Ursula Le Guin's Gethen and Winter from The Left Hand of Darkness. Words like pareis (29) and concepts such as "inswept by time" (47) are particularly reminiscent of Le Guin. Other books and other imagined locations resonate here as well, such as Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and the Tokyo of David Mitchell's number9dream.
Many of the features of Gladman's prose have been borrowed from her prose-poetry and the author often seems to be thinking about poetry as much as anything else. For example, the narrator muses: "I meant 'silence,' but silence is not something that moves visibly from one place to another. You simply cannot use the word this way, even in Ravic. I was saying smoke and he knew I did not mean it, but whether he knew what I actually did mean was hard to say." (70) Renee Gladman, the poet, might just as well be describing her poetics.
Event Factory's plot is summed up in its opening lines: " From the sky there was no sign of Ravicka. Yet, I arrived; I met many people." (11) Very little that happens between the narrator's arrival and her departure is causally related. Almost everything that occurs, except for language and ritual gestures, could have happened in any order. Nothing changes, other than that Ravicka continues to empty out. There is no real plot nor character development. Characters don't stick around long, with the exception of the narrator and Simon, the singing hotel/ motel receptionist without whom "there was no center. There was no hotel . . . . without him, it was a different place." (38) Ravicka may be, in the final analysis, simply a metaphor for life, where we, tourist-linguists, find ourselves for a short while, because "the plane . . . had landed and not yet taken off." (18)
Paula Koneazny lives and writes in Sebastopol, California where she earns her living as a tax consultant. Her poetry has appeared most recently or is forthcoming in OR, Interim and Bateau. Her reviews have been published in American Book Review, Verse, Rain Taxi and Tarpaulin Sky. She is currently an assistant editor of Volt. She can be contacted at paulagraphpress AT gmail DOT com.