There is a connection between the television comedy Louie, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and Douglas Warrick’s collection Plow the Bones.
All three are literary in the best possible way. Not the pretentious "look at how clever I am at writing this" head-up-your-ass kind of literary that is too often force-fed by bad English teachers who are still writing their own "literary" works focusing on the introspective musings of a beleagured-but-sympathetic writer-turned-adjunct-professor whose name is strikingly similar to the author’s. Not that.
The kind of literary where the words are beautiful, the sentences are keenly and insightfully crafted with care – and they exist entirely to serve the story. To draw you in and drive it home, to haunt you days and weeks and months and years later because the story shows you, perhaps unwillingly, something about yourself.
In Ecclesiastes, the prophet says "Vanity of vanities – all things are vanity." Everything will crumble to dust. All human endeavor is meaningless and without purpose. While the prophet does an end-run by appealing to service to the Lord, it is a last-second panacea, as much as Descartes’ half-hearted reassurance that reality is not an illusion because (my paraphrase) God is good and wouldn’t do that to us.
I’m writing this the day after a building fell on a Salvation Army thrift store, killing six. That kind of faith too closely resembles willful ignorance. But without that sense of external validation, without that sense of meaning… things get soul-blastingly cold.
For me, the most striking bit in Louie is when the title character tells us all relationships are doomed. They will always – always end in sadness. The relationship will end, or, best case scenario, one of you will die before the other. The end result of all relationships is sadness. He strives for one anyway, though you as the viewer know he’s doomed to both short (and long) term failure.
It’s a horrible, terrifying thought. I dare you to contemplate it. Dare you. It is emotional torture.
As a teenager, I told my mother (to her horror) that I’d realized the positive emotions – happiness, joy, and so on – could simply be explained as the absence of the negative emotions of fear, sadness, and depression. As if the removal of those awful things is relief enough. Carry a weight for too long, and simply removing gives you a feeling of lightness.
And that is the far side that Douglas Warrick takes us to.
Make no mistake. He shoves us screaming into the fire, eyelids pinned open while we viddy the chaos and meaningless madness that exists all around us. It’s emotionally trying reading. This book hit me as hard as Blindsight and House of Leaves; it took me nearly a month to be emotionally equipped to finish the book.
As we travel through the fire, the beautiful words searing the false illusions, the manufactured meanings, the idle banal distractions of the world away, Mr. Warrick’s work brings us through to the far side. To the place where, for a little while, cities can be redrawn, we love the women whose heads blaze, we tell our secrets to the creatures behind the walls, we dance on stilts and behind masks as the world burns. There is no meaning save the meaning of now, and released of the weight of all the illusions and delusions, free of the everyday blinding burden of society, we feel, for a little while, free.
It is a kind of hope.
We tell him that we love him.
And we mean it.
Highly recommended; you can buy Plow the Bones here