Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Floating Life by Tad Crawford

A nameless narrator awakens to the muddle of middle age, no longer certain who or what he is. He finds himself at a party talking to a woman he doesn't know who proves to be his wife. Soon separated but still living in the same apartment, he is threatened by a litigious dachshund and saddled with a stubborn case of erectile dysfunction in a world that seems held together by increasingly mercurial laws and elusive boundaries. His relationship deepens with an elderly Dutch model maker named Pecheur whose miniature boats are erratically offered for sale in a hard-to-find shop called The Floating World. Enlivened by Pecheur's dream to tame the destructive forces of nature, the narrator begins to find his bearings.

With quiet humor and wisdom, A Floating Life charts its course among images that surprise and disorient, such as a job interview in a steam room with a one-eyed, seven-foot-tall chef, a midnight intrusion of bears, and the narrator’s breast feeding of the baby he has birthed. 

From Amazon Description

I often read blogs, in which writers give advice to other writers. Some of the advice is good, some of it obvious and some of it suggests the writer has not read many books. One example of the latter sort of advice is “Don’t write about dreams.” Clearly that person has not read Lewis Carroll. And nor have s/he read Tad Crawford’s A Floating Life.

Like Alice in Wonderland the whole of Crawford’s book has a dreamlike quality. There are dreams in the book, but which sections are the central character’s dreams and which not is not always clear. As a bear says at one point “I spent a lot of time imagining who the dreams might belong to. Finally, I thought of you.”

Yes I did say “bear”. During the course of the book the narrator meets with a family of bears who live under Central Park, a litigious dachsund, Numun, an estate agent who offers him a golden cage in a building which is being built downwards, a World War II Japanese soldier and a modern Charon and Cerberus (and more as the Amazon description makes clear). As magic realism goes this is definitely on the magical/surrealist side. The dreams are edgy and often disturbing. There were times when I was reminded of the short stories of Karen Heuler.

The book does have realist elements. The narrator seems to be living a normal life working in marketing with a wife who is fed up with the fact that he hasn’t matured and who has decided to leave him. But even these elements are dealt with in a dreamlike way – he has a conversation with his wife at a party without recognizing her or apparently she him. The most realistic element is perhaps Pecheur and his model shop A Floating Life. The fantastic maritime scenes Pecheur displays are explained as computer programmed, engineered, modelled, although I doubt such programming is possible in real life. But Pecheur's displays have significance for the dreams and magic that follow.

I enjoyed this unusual book. It is strewn with symbolism - Jung would have had a field day. On writing this review I realise that I really ought to read it again to see what more I can find.

No comments: