True False by Miles Klee
OR Books, 2015
264 pages – OR Books
1.) Miles Klee is a male Lydia Davis on a cyberpunk acid trip. These are stories, but the density, compression, precision, imagery, and rhythm of his language often feel like something else. Take these sentences:
“The Dauphin, he has an unscratchable itch.” Here for its rhythm, the way he doubles up on the subject as repetition. The Dauphin, he. He, the Dauphin, is doubly bothered.
“Alex in the freshly waxed lobby, plaza blistering white outside.” A small, perhaps not notable example, but here for the way the verbs and articles are sucked from the sentence.
“When time was done celebrating itself….” For its personification.
“Above Manhattan’s voluntary blackout: a cathedral ceiling of stars where electric lavender had hung.” Again, the inventive workaround the verbs: a colon instead of one. Plus there’s that church sky.
“…the place groaned with cash.” When he does use verbs, they’re singularly connotative.
In Klee’s work, like Davis’s, genre borders are crossed, or more fitting, blurred. In fact, a lot is obscured in True False, even as it’s impossibly clear. That brings me to #2.
2.) Reality is slippery in Klee’s stories. Chronology appears and gets submerged. Boundaries of perception are porous. Not just perception, but the boundary between the “real” and the “symbolic” is often in flux. It evaporates. Or not evaporates, though sometimes, but mostly what is enacted is something more fluid than a disappearance into a gas: disappearance into a liquid. One that drips and oozes on the paragraph. Suddenly, yes, you realize, this thing is happening. A thing is happening and it’s that ghosts are leaking all over the building and Klee’s characters want to capitalize on the situation as a marketing opportunity. Or a holographic warp of light blinks on, but you only know it because it’s happened a second time.
What are initially described as discrete states of mimesis, the scene of the story versus the scene represented in the story, become each other. “Sam was watching a commercial, one that was there with him.” Then it becomes one that he is in. Sam comments on this slippage. No big deal, almost. “So a commercial slipped into his frame….” Could be any day. You’re watching something, then you’re in the watched, are the watched. Your reflection in the mirror moves slower than you do.
3a). He likes lists, listicles, and cataloguing the way some writers cling to plot. Klee accumulates it. I would count these stories all as using some form of listing:
“Varieties of Things One Rarely Bothers to Mention”
“A Few Environments”
“XX” (Though some would argue against this, I’m including it.)
“Dogfight” (Also could be refuted on this list, but the scenes are titled, piled on each other.)
“Twenty-Four Sorts of Silence”
Klee is very much an of-the-modern-moment writer. Or in cyberpunk fashion, of five minutes into the future moment. Systems, tech, media, glass buildings, company speak as allegory all figure prominently, so listing as a way to manage (call forth?) content is fitting. However, #2 (warping reality) exerts superior influence over the material. So the lists are torqued. His data have emotional reactions.
3b.) There’s plot, too. His characters are definitely and definitively driven. See #5.
4a.) He’s a dude. He writes about dudes. Not surfer dudes. Not jocks. More like urban fixated on sex as a short term fix like drugs dudes. A gritty, hard-boiled post-Nietzschean linguist thinker dude. The military shows up a fair amount, albeit not heroically. There are scientists, utilitarian philosophers, and bank robbers. He uses the word pussy. There’s fucking. Blowjobs. In elevators. In the cabs of industrial equipment in a cityscape lot. The women in his stories hurt his characters as they exert their power. Sometimes it’s mutual. Sometimes they are victims. Sometimes they’re just called “wife.” This isn’t as reductive as it sounds.
4b.) A revelation in “The Nikkei & The Dow” has a subversive effect on reading Klee’s stories too stereotypically regarding gender. Other instances, too. A female misanthrope particularly warmed my cockles. And then there’s Andalusia Dunn in LOVE.
5.) Klee seems driven to injury. To write about it. To throw his characters up against their circumstances and tear at their cuticles. Skin their shins. His characters are jealous of serenity. “The stars: how I hated them. A star doesn’t have to know itself.” We are incarcerated by consciousness. His characters walk up the walls. Misbehave. Rail against life and body as constraint. Animals are sacrificed. No one gets out alive. It’s all prickly will, and bloody. That’s what makes orgasm possible. The world attempts to perceive itself in the way that a corner in the linoleum flooring sticks up. Through imperfection do we know ourselves.
6.) Or at the very least we want to know. Every story is searching for reason or meaning by testing the limits of both. Klee’s characters are as much looking for an escape as they are looking to head into the full brunt of the future hurtling toward them. It’s a man-made future, but the systems of the man-made aren’t necessarily at fault: the yearning for contact is. And yet efforts at understanding are to be annihilated. They will be reconstituted ambiently. As ethereal steam. We live in a “universe winking with meaningless coincidence.” Doesn’t stop a writer from trying.
These stories are thought wrought materially. There’s a clarity of muted reality. Or sharp, acutely felt experiences are transmogrified through perception into language as contingency. Infinite yearning isn’t even quelled by death, though possibly mollified, given a bottle to suck on for a time as distraction, as if the desire to be pure being has no end.
Cara Benson is a writer. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Boston Review, Best American Poetry, and Fence. She recently switched genres from poetry (her first book) to fiction (a book in the works). A snippet of new work will appear shortly in Hobart. She mentors other writers via Grub Street and privately. www.carabensonwriter.com. @cbenson67