“For many days I lived forever...”
– Sky Saw by Blake Butler
“Our homes turned on their sides, the sound of the descent fixed with the ripping split the image of our vision into ten and ten again, we watched the fluelight strobe from softer planets in the vision of the fly…”
Person 1180, who is seemingly perpetually giving birth to grotesque – and unviable – progenies inside the labyrinth of rooms in her house, goes in search of her missing husband after her home is destroyed by yet another cataclysmic event:
“There was a shaking then. There was a long rip, coming from one direction then another. There were a million little tones. You couldn’t even hear it – as it began it had always been – the sound of something larger than the whole earth. The tone burped through light and carved it well into a strobe that in repetition appeared to slow down to gone again, while the day shook in the pummel of one thousand drums, the light around it breaking at the knit, pulling anything that had lived longer than it all apart.”
Although this was a challenging, and at times maddening, read – the imagery throughout was stunning and profoundly powerful. The brilliance of a novel like this – just like a Jackson Pollock painting, for example – is that it affects every person in a different way, on a different level.
And if I ever read Sky Saw again, I will bet that my experience will be different the second and third time around.
For me, this time at least, Sky Saw seemed like a cautionary tale of sorts – an indictment of our societal apathy. Let’s face it – we live in a world where many people have the attention span of a mayfly and couldn’t care less what is going on outside their four walls. We’ve become self-absorbed, lazy, and indifferent. Instead of making a meal, we go to a drive-thru. We don’t read the entire article, just the first few sentences. We would rather play video games or watch television than set a lofty person goal and work to achieve it. If a book is too challenging, most of us will simply put it down and seek out something easily recognized and digested. We don't try to comprehend, or appreciate, that which we don't understand. Apparently, it takes too much effort.
In Butler’s future, when the apocalypse comes, life doesn’t change all that much for some – they’ve been in a state of physical and mental decay for years.
In one memorable sequence, a man stands in the rubble of his home holding a remote control.
“…he stood in the air where the den had been, wielding a remote. Though the TV – or whatever else the remote had controlled – was no longer there he stood there staring like it was, stroking buttons to err the channel, raise the volume, on or off.”
You don’t read Blake Butler: you experience him. His prose will challenge you – and change forever the way in which you look at the written word.
The irony in all of this is that if indeed this novel is about humankind’s slow decline into apathetic slabs of meat, those who could glean some kind of enlightenment from Butler’s apocalyptic vision will never read it. Maybe if Tyrant Books came out with a Sky Saw video game, or Person 1180 and Person 811 action figures…
When’s the last time that you read a book that truly challenged you?
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.