“It’s my life. Remember. This is my life. It’s all I’ve got. Little bits and pieces. Nothing organized. You’re so disorganized. You’re a mess. For instance, what went on between that I was sitting on the sidewalk – I might have been five – and all the kids in the neighbourhood were laughing at me, and the next thing you know I’m living in an apartment and Dad’s gone. What happened in between? I don’t know how you could put me in that apartment. It was such a dump. It was hell. You might as well have sent me straight to hell. How could you do that? Why did you have to do a thing like that? Make me live in a place like that? Why couldn’t you put me in a nice place? Not a mansion. That’s not what I’m saying. Just some place decent where the bigger kids don’t throw snowballs at your head in the winter.”
After hearing about it for a couple of years, I finally ordered a copy of Toronto writer Ken Sparling’s hand-made self-publication, the novel Hush up and listen stinky poo butt (made at request, 1996), a story that begins as a series of fragments that them open themselves up into something further, a series of broken memories, centering around a boy and his father, with secondary characters a brother and mother as well. Part of what really makes this book is just how the fragments work as far as the uncertainty of the narrator; the more you know, the less you really know of what’s happening, and even the author/publisher wrapping such in 1940s-era discarded hardcovers increases the uncertainty. This is a book that isn’t sure of itself, a story that isn’t sure of itself. Where is it all going? Sparling, in his novels, has always managed the most with the least, writing not only fragments that work into a whole, but writing allusion, writing the ellipsis of story, tricking the sides of the story and coming to and through it from the best of outside. He writes the way people actually exist, through oddly-shaped experiences, scattered fragments and threads so long, twisted and deep that it becomes impossible sometimes to know or see either end even, sometimes, for the participants. In Hush up and listen stinky poo butt, Sparling writes, seemingly, about events so ordinary they begin to read as a story about nothing at all, and ends up asking some of the most troubling and important questions of existence that have managed to be asked, in a book that deserves not only a larger audience, but repeated readings. If some stories are written, and thus read, for us to understand different shades of ourselves, how different is Ken Sparling from, say, Milan Kundera or Salman Rushdie? Asking all the important questions.
What is the point at which you have to write it all down? When does the inventory of things in your life become such a burden? We see each other. We resist. When does a manual become necessary? Why can’t we just forget? Let’s allow ourselves the luxury of forgetting. Let’s do that right now. Today. Tomorrow we can remember. Again.
He, apparently, already has another novel due out next year. I am looking forward to seeing where he manages next.