Shards/Ismet Prcic: Early Reflections

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ever since Dana Spiotta reviewed Shards in the The New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago, I have been eager to get a copy for myself. Consider, here, what Dana says:
The novel is constructed of fragments — shards — seemingly written by its main character, Ismet Prcic. Ismet grows up in Tuzla and manages to flee shortly before his induction into the “meat grinder” of the Bosnian infantry. He has survived and made his way to America, but is fractured by what he left behind. The novel comprises mostly segments from his therapist- ordered memoir (or memoirs) and excerpts from his diary. These shards employ several narrative strategies. There are asterisked footnotes, italicized interruptions and self-reflexive comments about unreliability. There are first-, second- and third-person narrations, sometimes switching back and forth within a paragraph. This is a novel about struggling to find form for a chaotic experience. It pushes against convention, logic, chronology. But its disruptions are necessary. How do you write about war and the complications of memory? How do you write about dislocation, profound loneliness, terror? How does a human persevere?
Truth is, I'd been eager to read Ismet Prcic's debut novel ever since I sat in the office of Lauren Wein, the book's editor, and listened to her read aloud from the opening passage.  The book had only recently been released as advance reading copies and, judging from the number of brilliantly hued sticky notes attached to many of the pages, Lauren was still giving this book her extraordinary editorial attentions.  I loved the sound of what she had read to me.  I could not wait to read more.  And then, caught up in the crazy swirl of my own life, I did wait, not buying the book until just recently.

I am only into the early pages at this point. I am not, as I thought I might be, intimidated by the hybrid of forms, techniques, approaches.  The word "propulsive" has been attached to this book, and that it is, but the book is remarkably resonant, too, often funny, surprisingly accessible, despite all that is original and new.  Here is an early-in example:
I love a girl, Melissa.  Her hair oozes like honey.  It's orange in the sun.  She loves me, mati.  She's American.  She goes to church.  She wears a cross right where her freckles disappear into her cleavage.  She volunteers.  She takes forty minutes to scramble eggs over really low heat, but when they're done they explode in your mouth like fireworks, bursts of fatty yolk and coarse salt and cracked pepper and sharp melted cheddar and something called thyme.  She's sharp.  She drives like a lunatic.  She's capable of both warmth and coldness, and just hanging around her to see what it will be that day is worth it.


patti.mallett_pp said...

I have chills. Must read this. Thanks!!

Melissa Sarno said...

I have marked so many passages of this novel (this one included-- the eggs! Oh the eggs...), it is getting a little out of hand. Thanks again for alerting me about this book :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, Beth! Thank you for sharing this. I am off to look it up!

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