Shards/Ismet Prcic: Reflections

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two nights ago, just after I'd slipped the steaks onto their plates, a gold-dipped wine glass tumbled from a top cabinet shelf, just like that.  I hadn't touched it.

The glass, the gold, scattered to all ends of the kitchen and out into the hall.  I spent a long time collecting the pieces, and then yesterday, illuminated by the spot of sun that wedges through the front door, I discovered that the shards had multiplied overnight; they were still there, still bristling with danger.

I was thinking of that shattered glass early this morning as I finished reading Shards, the debut novel by Ismet Prcic.  I bought this book because I know Lauren Wein, its editor.  I bought it because others have expressed their astonishment.  I bought it because it has the word "propulsive" in the jacket copy.  I like that word.  It doesn't belong to me or my work, it may not ever, but it absolutely belongs to Prcic and Shards.

My word, where to begin?  First, as I noted here in a previous post, you're not going to find many sentences in any book, anywhere, like the sentences you find here.  One after the other after the other.  Prcic makes use of preposterous and somehow dead-on analogies and allusions, profanities and profundities.  He celebrates the hieroglyphs of punctuational tics, smears words, elevates typefaces, deploys footnotes, diary entries, memoirisms, blasphemy, theater, treachery, vulgarisms, and you know what?  It works.  It's not cute.  It's not invention for invention's sake.  It's not ponderous:  Prcic needs every thing that language surrenders to tell his heartbreaking, rude, surprisingly compassionate, and still violent story about a Bosnian refuge who is trying to make sense of his new life in southern California.  What did Prcic (for indeed, that is the character's name) leave behind?  Who did he leave behind?  At what cost, his own survival?

I could write a mile-long review and fail at explaining this book.  Frankly, I think any reviewer would feel the same way, or should.  There's an easy explanation for this lack of explanation:  this book cannot be explained.  It is to be experienced.  Sentence by sentence, scene by scene.  I quoted a favorite early passage in that blog post of the other day.  Here I'll quote another:
Movies don't do it justice—that's all I'm going to say about the thought-collapsing, breath-stealing sound a spinning shell makes as it pierces the air on the way down toward the center of your town, in between three of the busiest cafes and a little bit to the right of the popcorn vendor in the midst of hundreds of citizens who are pretending that everything is okay, that the war is winding down.  But I didn't know that yet.

5 comments:

Melissa Sarno said...

I was excited that we were reading this book at around the same time because its fun to discuss a book. But I don't even know what I would say to you about it. Just. Yes.
To be in it was amazing enough.

Melissa Sarno said...

Argh. Geezum crow, I have a major it's/its problem.

MikePDX said...

I'm about 40 pages away from finishing this book - and I don't want to. I agree - it's remarkable. It's my favorite of the year, followed closely by Corwin Ericson's "Swell."

Susan said...

HiBeth,
So funny that you and I keep reading the same books. I just finished Shards and am floored by the story. I picked it up because I read a review that compared it to The Cellist of Sarajevo (one of my all time favorite books), but in truth the two are so amazingly different. Shards has left me speechless. It truly is a book that needs discussing.

Susan said...

So funny that you and I keep reading the same books. I just finished Shards and am floored by the story. I picked it up because I read a review that compared it to The Cellist of Sarajevo (one of my all time favorite books), but in truth the two are so amazingly different. Shards has left me speechless. It truly is a book that needs discussing.
Susan (aka friend of Ed Goldberg)

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