Book Reviews · 10/28/2012

The House Enters the Street by Gretchen E. Henderson


Starcherone Books, 2012

Allow me to submit, as my review, a revision of the LC Subject Headings originally listed for Gretchen Henderson’s The House Enters the Street. (The genre distinction brouhaha has nothing on the non-existent battle over the Library of Congress’ list of relevant subject categories a book supposedly addresses. The “free floating divisions” end up distilling a book into its most simplified dregs, especially a book like Henderson’s, which might require the invention of new headings: Barns as Ships to Sail Inland Seas, Stories as Grafts, Mark Z. Danielewski but Not, Sense of Touch and Missing Hands, and Synesthetic Triumph. But in the spirit of cooperation, out of respect for the system, which in its reduction means that someone searching for a certain heading might come up with a few surprises every now and then, I’ll do my best to work within some of those originally listed, with a few additions for good measure.)

1. Scandinavians who live in— Iowa —have twin daughters who were once triplets who have granddaughters who live on separate coasts and who have both lost the use of one or both hands; this is just the surface of Gretchen Henderson’s Fiction.

2. The— Painting on the novel’s cover, a reimagining of “The Street Enters the House,” is one way into it; the first section begins with a quote from the man who created the original— Boccioni —and his description of the woman at its center, “We share her view and multifold sensations…” and how the images within it surge and multiply; this a kind of introduction to how the novel will behave.

3. A kind of logic to understand how this novel wonders/wanders through Families and art and music, which is anything but Domestic, except perhaps for the notion of home, unless medieval music, stanzas, a painting and fiction can become a home, and so maybe, yes, it is.

4. Told in the kaleidoscopic Narrative —using Second —and Third-Person —of both granddaughters, and sprinkled with histories of their grandmothers, the novel magically and in ways that are difficult to articulate, enacts the vigorous movement and simultaneity of the interior and exterior of the painting.

5. It’s almost impossible to know where to begin a review of this novel that begins In Media Res, in this novel that rejects beginnings “(as if beginnings are singular; as if knowing makes a difference)”

6. Its Form is a Terra Incognita —one granddaughter wanders into a store, “Books within Books,” and is given a novel, “The House Enters the Street.” The outside is always getting into this novel and the novel within it that is the novel that it is. In the nested book, demarcated by its different typography, Arturo Francamano, an idea-chef, is in love with Nova, who also has injured hands and writes a play that is included, in its entirety, within the book; Arturo is also caught staring at a woman reading a book who is the granddaughter who is reading the book. If all of this is difficult to follow, I sincerely apologize, but I’m not sure there’s any other way. It is so rare for me to be so moved by a novel that I am rendered incapable of explaining the simplest thing: like how it works.

7. But I’ll continue to try. There is so much Music in its language and its use of ut queant laxis, an early form of scales, the ur do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do, that seems like a table of contents at the start of the novel; its verses act as chapter headings, but they aren’t in ascending order, and so, where is a reader to go but “shifting and spinning” through the novel’s Modulations

8. as the book turns, turns, mirrors, doubles; there are the granddaughters’ twinned injuries and those in the nested book who are similarly affected; there’s the grandmothers who are the triplets who “became twins to those who observed them, in name only, because their dead sister split her spirit between them”; the grandmothers who eventually attend a Catholic school where they learn, “In Nomine patris et filit et spiritu sancti “Three in One, One in Three: some things Are, that seem unable to Be.”

9. For any other number of other books, I would be nervous that everything I’ve just written is wrong, including my wanting to tell you that the act of writing, even if it’s through voice-activated software, as a form of unraveling is a form of praxis, enacted in a beautifully difficult way, or that when a granddaughter says of the family’s mythology, “You know your place in these stories,”and I reveled in the unsettling notion that I wasn’t sure if I did, know my place in this novel that I can’t explain that broke my Heart, or that it made me want to plant mine, like the giant from the Norwegian Fairytale told in the book, outside myself and into its pages of its Experimental fiction.

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Gretchen E. Henderson is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Writing and Humanistic Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her writings have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies (The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, The &NOW Awards: The Best Innovative Writing) and her first novel, Galerie de Difformité, was awarded the 2011 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Prize from &NOW Books. For a complete bio, please visit “Starcherone”:http://www.starcherone.com/henderson.html

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Jess Stoner is the author of the novel, I Have Blinded Myself Writing This (Short Flight/Long Drive Books (Hobart), Feb 2012). Her choose-your-own adventure chapbook of poems, You’re Going to Die Jess Wigent (Fact-Simile), came out in the summer of 2011. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Alice Blue Review, Everyday Genius, Caketrain, Juked, and many other handsome journals. Jess currently lives in the sweat and brisket of Austin.