An Dantomine Eerly

By J.R.D. Middleton

Dark Coast Press
March 2010
160 pages


Reviewed by Greg Bem


"I am here now alone in my hole, my portal, my awfully shiny prison,... a bay window facing the Atlantic shore. In our time together I will show you what singular minds do when tossed fuse lit into violent twilight, indiscriminate fire, and that inevitable result that arises—a slow, bobby, buoyant wade through blackness." Thus begins An Dantomine Eerly, a tricky bed of narrative verse. The story takes on a slew of guises through the transformations in tone and personality of the maniacal narrator, Dallin. The book is dark, its landscapes phantasmagorical, and yet it manages to capture an ethereal, near-philosophic quality about its ancient New England setting and those who may have lived there.

Early on we learn that the book is constructed after a poetic form called the Aìsling, an Irish dream-song from the  seventeenth century. The form is tied to a journey or heightened mode of learning through experience. What results is a collapse of old worlds and reformations into new: the haunted poet-narrator's journey to find some form of stability, each dreamy tendril of prose reaching out from within his consciousness: "I knew I was supposed to be looking for something which I had originally set out for, but it too evaded me. A distance had been formed by the shock of all that had happened, and it kept me from experiencing anything directly, leaving me to continue on unknowingly..."

At times, the language is akin to Lovecraft, and stretching even further, to fine, gruesome moments in Poe and Crane. Even the precise psychological craft of the Brontë sisters seeps through the rotting floorboards of its burnt structures:

Cracks in board over the front windows concentrated moonlight, projected into the house stray strings of silver light defined by impossible darkness, which broke into the walls which were mostly bare besides the kistschy papering and ornamental trimmings. Past the parlor room, shadows bowed from deep corners irregularly, as if attracted by that dark impossibility governing the house, bending out toward it, shadows not made by exact absences of light, but a substance all of their own. They took up space there with me, as another body might.

The environment dictates the madness, taking on character where other characters are missing. Ultimately, what these naturalist and gothic writers have in common, and what Middleton evokes, is the search for the identity of a self that needs unification. "You'll have to rise despite the collapse and go meet the hollow ones who reflect the sun so unawares. Rejoice for now! In this, your possession of it all!" warns the narrator in an early section of the book. An Dantomine Eerly is filled with these mysterious and thrilling remarks that through the mists and decrepit cobblestone promise some answer even if that answer is to keep trudging through, keep exploring. Even if the answer isn't clear, it is out there. It has to be.

As madness inevitably overtakes the narrator, Middleton neither heightens it beyond imperceptibility nor shrugs it off to ensure readability: "ENTER THE PAINTING! THERE IS THE PAINTING! YOU ARE THE PAINTING! YOU ARE THE PAINTING BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS THE PAINTING! PROVE YOU NO SELF, DISSOLVE PETTY CHILD DISSOLVE PETTY CHILD EVOLVE PETTY CHILD OUT OF A PETTY CHILD," rants a voice, some voice, the voice.

By the novel's end, we are left with phrases and hyper-descriptions, montages and collections of images burying us, piling up like a trove of treasure. This perhaps cannot be avoided when dealing with the psyche of the most mutated, deranged travel perceivable. It is like Anaïs Nin. It is like Gertrude Stein. It is about language but about nothing at all, the delineation of things, process, and upkeep: "Images folded together, shone off the back and sides of each other, precisely, like a diamond. One object, no center, breaking apart light, sending it off everything else and ultimately itself." The action here is the stillness that can only be achieved after a disaster, a sift through confusion, or an epic process, and it is as beautiful as it is succinct.