By Davis Schneiderman

Northwestern University Press
June 2010
259 pages


Reviewed by Renée E. D'Aoust


In Drain, Davis Schneiderman slams us into a whacked-out future (the year 2039) where we inhabit a hellhole in and around desiccated Lake Michigan. It’s a power struggle wrought disturbingly new: the Blackout Angels, radicals who ooze body fluids; a corporation, Quadrilateral, which is something akin to Big Brother; and fundamentalists, ever-present in American life, who worship the slimy Fulcrum Maneuvers and a World Worm.

The fundamentalists appear so close to their present-day brethren that reading about them made me want to take a cold shower. Laborious licking of fluids by the futuristic punk literati bothered me much less, perhaps because I see more reason for anarchy than religious cults in Schneiderman’s 2039. Then I had an epiphany and felt decidedly average, yet uncannily amused: "This average woman from this average community may very well be able to walk down these stairs, now."

Schneiderman has the ability to twist and shout, but he’s also a dead straight and prophetic commentator. Language more than unsettles; descriptions disturb while they unravel assumptions:

[W]atch the rings of Saturn growing steadily around my left eye, my black eye, my dead eye, and get real sleepy.  Look closely now, you scabies-ridden entrails-stained pig turd. My left eye no longer exists, the skin has grown over—a bloody mess of white pus and inside moon-rip, weathered black by the endless Interface windstorms.

"The skin has grown over" the eye and that eye is within the reader, within the text, very much a part of the narrative’s future and, dare I suggest, our future, too. This is something more than Big Brother watching you: we are in "‘[t]he ashes of Post-America.’"

All this watching happens under the daunting and haunting eye of a corporation, the Quadrilateral, ensuring the banality of thought. The act of watching and of being seen, of reading and of thinking, creates the interplay between description and meaning:

You see, the round ring inscribing my left eye is a tree trunk offering the lines of its pulp. Look closely, for each passage of time I’ve added a thinly stained ring of a slightly different tone. There’s an entire world in there: a sanctuary of headless sea anemones hovering in blue-green sparkles on a flotilla of red-umber specks.

The revolutionary way that Schneiderman conjures images within images makes us realize how easily, how often, we gloss over the violence underpinning the creation of art itself: "Proceed in an orderly manner and you collude with the world’s linearity." The text implicates the reader in the shocking act of watching and in the violent, radical act of art.

We run the risk of creating this kind of world if we fail to pay attention to Schneiderman’s warning. Things in this future are not so different from our cubicle monkey experience of work today: "Tyler Harding Taylor’s job as Quadrilateral media consultant will continue as planned; she’ll cut shopping-mall ribbons, sign petitions extending Post-American citizenship to old Cultists tired of picking their way through the Quadrilateral trash."

Drain’s denuded beauty is created as much through language and linguistic experimentation as it is created through traditional narration, setting, plot, and characters. Everything is heightened to make the mad business of reading a lot of disturbing fun. Post-America welcomes it all; we create the opening through every orifice, not just through our eyes. We are complicit with any outcome, and any interpretation, because in Drain our weeping bodies bleed tears through every pore, and any way that we try to pour truth out of our mouths is suspect.