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Evan Dara: The Lost Scrapbook

Another one of those long difficult books that I bought on principle and then let languish on my bookshelf for a decade (literally; I just went to Amazon to see what the reader reviews were like and it informed me that I had bought this from them in 1999). Like many Gaddis books, it consists almost entirely of unattributed dialogue, although in this case much of it is more like monologue, as (unnamed) people recount occurrences that have happened to them.

Adding to the difficulty, the book consists largely of “scenes” that have nothing at all to do with each other, at least overtly; also, there are no breaks between scenes, even by starting a new paragraph, and in fact a scene/speaker change can sometimes happen in the middle of a sentence. (I say “sentence” even though there is only one period in the whole book; all other sentences are demarcated instead with semicolons; or ellipses… or occasionally both;… you can imagine that this can get a bit wearying).

So basically it’s a big collage, and when you approach it that way it’s actually pretty interesting. The individual stories that make up the “novel” (I feel a little funny calling it that) are generally quite compelling, even in their fragmented form, and about 60% of the way through the book the granularity of the collage changes, so that instead of getting ten pages at a time of different stories, you get one paragraph or even just one sentence at a time, but of the same basic story. This technique, in which a plot plays out just by reeling out hundreds of unattributed sentences relaying people’s varying reactions to off-screen events, is really cool and fairly gripping.

I was expecting all the threads of the book to tie together in the end, but I had to be satisfied with some loose inter-story connections and a well-earned climax to the eventual main plot. It turns out to be a book more about establishing a mood and way of looking at things in the reader than about a plot, which is fine. At close to 500 pages, you’d think it would take months to get through, but it’s actually a pretty quick read, largely because the writing of the individual scenes is very compelling. I was glad to move on to a more normal book when I finished it, but it was a really interesting reading experience that I’m glad to have had.

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