By Evan Lavender- Smith

Six Gallery Press
February 2011, Paperback
118 pages


Reviewed by J.A. Tyler



Evan Lavender-Smith’s Avatar is the story, or the unstory, of a nameless character floating in a void in front of a star, accompanied only by his tears, …his quarter of a fingernail. He is friends with the stars, with his tears, with his hair, or wants to be, or pretends to be, or wants to pretend to be, or pretends to want to be. And he remembers looking up at the stars from what he believes was his parents’ roof; he remembers laying out baseball cards on the stairs; he remembers placating a neighbor by idly commenting on the weather. He remembers, but he wants to feel.

Avatar opens:

they were my friends for a great number of years they were my greatest friends they floated alongside me to keep me company they were the first great friends I made here I would awaken from sleep I would awaken after a night of sleep or after a day of sleep I would awaken to find my tears still floating at my side I would be overjoyed upon awakening having opened my eyes to find thousands of tears thousands of old friends still faithfully floating alongside

Avatar is the lack of pause, the stream-of-consciousness even in its punctuation—it is all a quiet rumble, a forward pattern that unwinds, a murmur of chaos that unravels with each page. And while this is not a new game, surely Samuel Beckett heads a long list of linguistic provocateurs and Oulipo groupies, these unhinging acts are not always done well, are not always styled with heed, and they often turn a mayhap narrative into a careless narrative. Avatar avoids these pitfalls and valiantly ventures into the unlimited, raking together words like leaves into a marvel of a book: 

I remember pretending to be floating in the ocean imagining or pretending or pretending to imagine coming across something floating by something anything a bottle a bottle floating in the empty space floating in the ocean a bottle with a piece of paper rolled up inside I would open the bottle reach inside to retrieve the rolled up piece of paper and I still after all these years I still remember exactly what the words said the exact words written on the piece of paper when I unrolled it do not lose hope

What rings in Avatar both as we read and when we close its final pages is the sense of loneliness, the overwhelming fear of nothingness, the bitter silence of only our own voices. But what bangs loudly, what echoes in circling swagger, what coats us in ear-shattering simplicity, is the absolute panic of our singularity, our disconnectedness, our fear of coming unpinned. And yet, this unpinning, this disconnect, this panicked tone, is exactly what Lavender-Smith uses to craft Avatar—wielding these weapons against us:

I felt that I had one very dependable friend in the inability of the strength of the word fingernail or the word sneaker to lessen and another very dependable friend in the ability of the strength of the word pinecone to lessen two very dependable friends for a great number of years this is how it was for me with the word pinecone the word pinecone on the one hand and on the other hand the word pinecone or the word pinecone on the one hand and on the other hand nothing at all for a great number of years

Avatar is, in its essence, all about language and character coming unglued. There is hardly anything here to hold, barely enough breath to breathe, yet the narrative spins upwards and we go on, on into a space undefined and infinite. We see both the end and the beginning, even if neither is presented to us. Lavender-Smith’s Avatar unleashes language from its normal place, makes it something wilder, something more spacious, a literature more aggressively peppered with fresh collage than bound storyline.