Sunday
May032015

No Other

By Mark Gluth


 

Sator Press
December 2014
978-0983243724


Reviewed by Meghan Lamb


 

"Hague was just there, or barely." This sentence is an apt beginning for No Other by Mark Gluth, a novel filled with internally conflicted statements. Sometimes, there's a cause and effect embedded somewhere in these phrases, but it's buried by the fact of being just there. At times, these phrases give the effect of a stop-motion animation, an assemblage of still frames and moments converted into uncanny motion. It's a novel that's living, but barely, with small worlds beautifully trapped in each sentence. I found myself frequently pausing, re-reading, and repeating each word.

He was there. Just there. Or barely. There, or barely. Or, not but, or if. An afterthought? An option? An option, meaning what? This was my surface-level thought process while reading through No Other, though I knew the what was shivering inside my bones.

 

No Other explores the aftermath of a family tragedy from the perspectives of Hague (a kid), Tuesday (his older sister), and Karen (their mother). More specifically, the novel explores the ways tragedy repeats itself, continuing moment to moment as each of its narrators moves through the story. While No Other does not overtly deconstruct the motivations of its narrators, it insinuates their thought patterns on the sentence-level, using language to embody the sensory experience of being each character. From the opening of the book, I was wholly absorbed in its physical details, feeling and seeing what Hague felt, saw, and noticed:

Hague was just there, or barely. The packed dirt was damp in the shade of the tires. It soaked through his jeans then underwear. Beyond it this field was baked and flat. It was the sunlight that was everywhere. The cone or whatever he was in was cool considering.  

As I read, the cause and effect of these words seeped into me, much like the fluid from the packed dirt Hague lies in. Because the field was damp, Hague's jeans and underwear were soaked. Because he was noticing light, he must have been there for a while. Because he was in the tire cone, he saw the world through a filtered viewpoint. He's hiding from something just out of his view: just there, or barely. All of these observations occur in the time of each sentence, enveloping the reader in a moment-to-moment pacing. The cause and effect—though visible—are swept up in this rhythm of one sentence moving swiftly to the next.

Another reviewer remarked that within the structure of this book, important facts come too late and are often revealed to the reader before they are realized by the characters. While I agree on some levels—the facts arrive just as they're realized—I feel this reflection underestimates the sensory bond that Gluth creates between reader and character. There is a conflict between the structure of the book (what the reader knows will happen) and the sentence-level structure (what the reader feels in pacing with the characters, the book's narration). In other words, Gluth's language generates a conflict between the internally felt and the externally observed, an irreconcilable conflict that translates into a dynamic where everything's just there.

It's the feeling I get when I find myself deep in an argument, saying the same things, repeating a pattern that I should be able to stop. I feel the flow of my own words so deeply it seems I'm unable to still them. There's a strange sense of distance, a numbness that follows from knowing and feeling too much all at once.

Gluth has a strong understanding of his language and this distancing effect. He employs his sensory writing not only to aid the reader in identifying with a particular character's perspective, but to create a sense of otherness and separation from non-narrating characters. Each character expresses his or her own physical experience in turn. Each character also at points becomes the unfelt other. Gluth describes a scene from Hague's perspective wherein Karen arrives home, drunk. Though the scene details responses from both characters, the physical experience is only felt through Hague:

It was his brow that hit the coffee table's edge. He heard it as it happened. Karen yelped. He was kneeling, reeling. He touched his head where it hurt. His skin peeled back. Something stuck to his brow. Her voice was this dull hum beneath the ringing in his ears. What she said was that she was worried that she had really hurt herself. He began to stand up. He was dizzy and nauseous. When she braced her hand beneath herself she looked at him. He saw through the blood running into his eyes. She was just this shape he made out then spat at.

The reader experiences this scene as Hague, hitting his brow on the coffee table, hearing it Karen's yelp—as it happened, and receiving Hague's sensations—reeling, skin peeling back just as they happen. Karen's sensations are described too—she braces her hand, she says she was worried she had really hurt herselfbut they are told plainly, received, but not felt by the reader. This distance in language, this differentiation in experience, allows the reader to dehumanize Karen just as Hague does. She becomes just this shape through the blood in his eyes, this shape he made out then spat at.

This distance between the known and the felt, and the resulting frustration with language, is the tragedy of No Other. Gluth understands this, and the empathy he demonstrates for his characters and for the private struggles they cannot express without him is extraordinary. The novel reverberates with desire, with the characters' longing to cross the space between their internal struggles and the outer world where things are always somehow happening. In one particularly resonant scene, Hague writes down a list of reasons not to commit suicide, presumably filled with reflections on his father's death (and his own thoughts of dying). When he turns this list in for a school assignment, his teacher asks him, Did you want these things to come true, did you think they would? This sentence (all one sentence, all one question) is filled with the conflict that drives No Other. It leaves so much so beautifully unsaid, yet still feels finished before it is spoken.