Thursday, August 3, 2006

The Blond Box by Toby Olsen

Here we have a book that I don't fully understand. However, I feel like I probably would understand if I really thought about it hard enough, and read enough ancillary documents. Possibly I'd need a good night's sleep and a Coke. It's all wrapped up in the artwork of Marcel Duchamp, and it takes place in three different times -- 1949, 1969, and a hypothetical 2069, which actually takes place in one of the characters' scifi novel. The most interesting thing to me about the book right now, and I'm about 50 pages from the end, is how the events in this scifi novel strangely mirror the events in the 1949 part... I like that kind of shadowing. It's also kind of a comfortable read, for me, because I feel like this is familiar territory in a way, and I don't really feel the need to scrub my eyes, refocus, and understand every line. I have to tell you that when I read the first few chapters, and began to formulate my reactions in my mind, I found myself saying something which is probably very crude and unliterary and wrong -- yes, another FC2 type of book, in a phrase: Poop and penises, lovingly described.

Here are some links about it, written by people more diligent than I apparently am, who have perhaps had more recent sleep or fewer recent toddlers:

Golden Handcuffs Review, if you scroll down past the poetry, has two book reviews of it and then a possibly related (?) piece by Toby Olsen with an amusing first line.

New Pages has a review of it.

You can't discount a book with a Robert Coover blurb on the back, can you? I get the feeling that Toby Olsen is a very entertaining guy to sit next to at dinner. I'm just a little weary, at this point in the book, of the different ways of saying that prostate pain is like a knot in your testicles.


I am not into saying bad things about small press writers. However. One of the main characters spends the last 100 pages wearing a diaper. And the narrative not only refers to the diaper constantly (as in, "He shifted his diaper.") but also has the character feeling the urge to urinate, and then urinating painfully into the sand. Like... all the time. This character must have been pounding 40s right off camera, because he peed more than a male dog on a walk down fire hydrant alley. So... I'm not weeping or anything that it's over. It was an interesting book. It made me, at the end of the day, feel a little bit dumb about my ignorance of contemporary art, and a little bit tired of the whole diaper/prostate/urination/testicles thing. Husband postulated that the thing was maybe revised on a laptop in a urologist's waiting room.

BUT! It's a unique interesting book and I'm going to write a positive review of it. I'm sure Olson's other books aren't quite so relentlessly crotch-o-centric.


The story takes place in three different times... 1949, 1969, and a fictional 2069, where characters in a sci-fi book being written in 1969 follow a parallel storyline to the plot unfolding in the "real world." Beyond this interesting and unusual structure, the book introduces us to an odd grouping of characters who are engaging and genuine, wracked as they are with various medical problems.

Ultimately _The Blond Box_ is about the art of Marcel Duchamp, and the best function of this odd narrative is providing a thoughtful, hypothetical context for his strange art. It's like a different way to write about an installation, instead of a scholarly article, instead of a critical review, a novel that positions the art in the center of a system that explicates it in the unusual way it demands.