Tue Sep 8 2009
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
The 14 linked stories in Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas depict the fragility of the American family through relentless accumulation of apocalyptic detail. Parents disappear or are held captive by their children. Babies are born malformed and enormous. Homes are destroyed by water or fire or accreting dust.
In “Smoke House,” a sheet of plastic in a ruined bedroom serves as a wall “to keep the outside out or the inside in.” In “Want for Wish for Nowhere,” an instructional packet dispatched to new mothers claims that “there are holes in every home.” Butler’s collection is frequently concerned with outside and inside and with the prodding of holes in between, letting the chaos of the world’s end into homes and the chaos of homes out into the world.
The extreme subject matter and obsessively rendered syntax will evoke comparisons to writers like Brian Evenson and Gary Lutz, but Butler is an original force who is fearless with form. “Damage Claim Questionnaire” consists of answers to increasingly bizarre questions, from “How long have you owned your home?” to “Could you be doing something more?” “Tour of the Drowned Neighborhood” ticks off a list of things lost, while “Water Damaged Photos of Our Home Before I Left It” establishes a creepy dialogue between image and text. Scorch Atlas is something of a visual artifact itself. Designed by Zach Dodson, cofounder of the new independent press Featherproof, the collection has splotchy, dark pages that appear charred—as if it has weathered the fiery disasters it describes. The design is appropriately disarming, an apt part of the overall barrage by this inventive and deeply promising young author.—Kimberly King Parsons
Butler reads at Barbes Sat 12.