Review of Ben Brooks’ FENCES

October 13, 2009 at 3:08 am (Uncategorized)


It’s great when a new Fugue State Press book comes out.  They only do about two a year, but each one is so unique and refined it’ll keep you busy and thinking through the wait for the next.  Ben Brooks’ Fences is the latest of these, and it’s no exception to Fugue State’s constant standard of genuinely different art.

Fences is the mind-outbursts of an extremely depressed narrator, whose strongest desire is simply to be “here” and “feel,”  but finds it impossible under the burden of society, who he diagnoses as a “wild miscontruction of thoughts and feelings.”  So the book is a constant toiling against an imperfect world that’s slowly ending, governed by a God who’s always drunk or hungover and, much like the narrator, doesn’t see the point in anything. 

The layout of the book is incredible.  It’s like classical music, how it pulses and falls, and is done in such effective harmony with the text that it creates another poetic breath on top of the written one.  It’s one of the most successful elements of the book at putting you inside of the narrator’s head as it curls out and then flinches.  The book is called a novel but you could just as easily call it poetry; it’s laid out in broken lines and some of the language in it is shockingly fresh.

Like, for example, this: “You are still so young. Still the girl drawing herself being hanged on the playground patio with a stick of red chalk and a fuck-all-of-you grin.”  This also seems like a deeply important line for the book, to me, because it sums up what the main thrust of the novel is.  For the most part Brooks does it very successfully – it’s a rant about depression, and innevitably he does fall into some potholes of cliche angst feelings, that senseless fuck-the-world attitude – but he also writes about it in a very genuine way.  Pangs of feeling that make you pause for a moment and wait for the feeling to drop all the way, fully dissolved in you, so you can be clear enough to keep reading and absorbing more of that feeling. 

I think, in terms of capturing real suffering, Brooks writes best about heartbreak.  In many ways, the narrator of Fences seems to be evacuating all the thought in the book to overcome the loss of his lover, even the things he writes about that are unrelated to it.  It all comes back to the distance apart from her and the slow breaking-down of their hypothetical future.  And even if the narrator is determined to give up on that, his mind can’t help from bubbling up with thoughts of her or sudden primitive exclamations of “I fucking miss you.”

Fences is definitely a dope book.  It’s described as an “emotional montage” and no matter how many words I put in this I don’t think I could sum it up better than that.  A full-throated reconsideration of the world and a photograph of the mind when stuck in the clamps of loss and depression.  Check it out here, and check out all of Fugue State’s stuff.  I’d especially recommend James Chapman’s Stet.  It very much exemplifies what I said earlier about their books keeping you thinking for a long, long time.

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