A Dimly Lit Drone Bombs: All the Light that Was by Nancy Kricorian (Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, New York, 2013) Armenian News Network / Groong April 2, 2013 By Bedros Afeyan It is entirely remarkable how banal her writing is. As if afflicted by a permanently swollen and actively secreting gland of bland, Nancy Kricorian writes and writes without heeding giant warning signs. So much bad writing, packaged, fanfared, pre-exposed as grand, and when you face the work you realize that there is "so much less there than meets the eye." This is both infuriating and disheartening. The highs and lows of inspiration and despair are non-existent here. The art is absent. The depth and texture is vanished as if the world was a flatland of dull plastic existence. Here, all sentences are uniformly DOA (dead on arrival). One is reminded of a shop keeper of yore, with his meat packing wax paper and a fat short dull tipped pencil, running after your thoughts and your purchases, trying to keep track of what is in your mental basket and how many of this or how many of that you seem to care for, awkwardly making his lists, never comfortable with writing and dreading arithmetic. It is this sense that smells rotten in her writing and soon kills. Nancy Kricorian's writing consists of drab lists, drones, prices and dozens and parcels and inane remarks and stairs and streets and asides on jobs and jibes and jibber and ish. it just makes you feel so awful, if indeed this is a representation of what goes on in her head, which she insists on putting down on paper and for us to have to share this horror, three novels deep and counting. Muted, dulled, dwarfed existence is all Ms. Kricorian manages to undulate with her limited and irritating prose style. Drones of mud-dragged description of static, stale lists, emotional barrenness that is foreign even in the Antarctic, let alone as a depiction of anything remotely Armenian, or French, or alive, for that matter. Perhaps this would be the vibe one would get as a result of being heavily medicated, all dull, all leveled, all bland, until the next crisis of chemical imbalance. To quote Karouac about what happens if you polish your prose too much or wear off its colors by worrying, I wish someone had pointed out to her this: `I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings.' - Jack Kerouac. We might as well add another quote by Kerouac in order to throw in writing styles and Armenians and Jazz, all at once: "Yes, jazz and bop, in the sense of a, say, a tenor man drawing a breath and blowing a phrase on his saxophone, till he runs out of breath, and when he does, his sentence, his statement's been made . . . That's how I therefore separate my sentences, as breath separations of the mind . . . I formulated the theory of breath as measure, in prose and verse, never mind what Olson, Charles Olson says, I formulated that theory in 1953 at the request of Burroughs and Ginsberg. Then there's the raciness and freedom and humor of jazz instead of all that dreary analysis and things like `James entered the room, and lit a cigarette. He thought Jane might have thought this too vague a gesture . . .' You know the stuff. As for Saroyan, yes I loved him as a teenager, he really got me out of the nineteenth-century rut I was trying to study, not only with his funny tone but also with his neat Armenian poetic - I don't know what . . . he just got me . . . Hemingway was fascinating, the pearls of words on a white page giving you an exact picture . . . but Wolfe was a torrent of American heaven and hell that opened my eyes to America as a subject in itself." There are two possibilities. Nancy Kricorian lacks the necessary acuity to analyze, to construct, to build universes of thoughts and emotions around real or imagined people with real problems and consequences, or else she is polishing the life out of her work and all we are left with are worthless scraps after all the meat has been gnawed off due to fear and self-doubt, bad advice from wrong teachers at Dartmouth or Columbia or editors asleep on the job, ever since. Either way, reader, beware. You are entering the desert of barren prose, the garden of barely moving inconsquentialities, the dull-house of dim imaginings, the hell of unechoed chambers... Avoid this experience! You owe it to yourself. There is no there, there. As for particular instances of blandness offered in this novel, I offer the following observations. Ms. Kricorian knows nothing of what it means to be Armenian. She is a permanent and self-satisfied outsider. She will judge, concoct and contort whatever it is to be Armenian to the small pegged region of depiction and depth-penetration she is capable of and leave it at that. So there will be a Vay, vay, Yavroum, Babig, Meron, Zavoug, vardig babble of what appear to her to be Armenianisms, steadily flowing. But they are hollow and insipid. They are also no substitute for true cultural or historical memes. They are clown fair. Add to that a novel set in Paris with hardly a true Paris there. Saying Belleville, Belleville, and naming a park or two (over and over again) or le Cinquihme, does not a depiction of Paris make, let alone the Paris of the 1940's, with Boches thrown in as a depiction of the loathed invaders and occupiers, too little depiction, too much repetition. Texture and depth are not achieved by repetition. You actually have to work to fill in the scenes, not repeat them interminably. No amount of buttons sewn, Jewish little girls saved, kisses given, sex scenes in pitch dark rooms left undescribed, church smoky scenes interminably described and repeated, dinner tables and radio broadcasts, cursing fathers on cue, admonishing mothers like robots and the dying aunt dutifully, dying, will do. Clichis abound here. You will easily get the sense that all men are animals, jumpy, to be tamed. All women are saints, soaring with their saintliness shoes, sliding through the blue velvet skies of their dreams and sighs, with dignity that could break mountains of resistance without a cry. This magical brew of infantility, of depthlessness, of anecdotes that leave you thinking, huh? Is that all? Is that all there is? You must be kidding me! Get to you after a while. The sparsity of specificity and nonexistence of depth are what kill any chances the author might have had to say something meaningfully. The inept phrasing, the lifelessness, sentence after sentence, are nauseatingly irritating. And 278 pages of it wait for you in this book, perhaps self mockingly called, All the Light That Was. Do not read it. Walk away, dear reader, and find a real Armenian, a real author, hopefully the combination of both, and have a merry time with our saga as a people and as a narrative proposition worthy of deeper consideration, if you can. -- Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in English and also paints and sculpts.
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