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Story by Story: Brian Evenson's Fugue State: Bauer in the Tyrol

In Reviews on July 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Blake Butler has been writing a commentary on each of the stories contained in Brian Evenson’s forthcoming collection, ‘Fugue State’, both on his blog and as a guest on various other sites. Writers’ Bloc is proud to be hosting one of the reviews.


Thirteenth in the order of stories in Brian Evenson’s ‘Fugue State’ (published by Coffee House Press) is ‘Bauer in the Tyrol,’ which originally appeared in ‘Fourteen Hills’.

Here, after the series of loops within loops and doors within doors of the previous twelve texts, we seem to have reached the void within the void.

‘Bauer in the Tyrol’ is immediately distinctive in its poise from the stories set before it if not in tone or language, then in the nature of its condition—here, truly for the first time, we have found a man at least cognizant of the problematic nature of his surroundings (that being that his wife is dying in the room with him and there is something wrong with the air).

The strange setting of the ‘Tyrol’—which, according to sources could mean a number of different things, but offers a strange locale to the text here in that it has a name and possible contexts, though none quite distinct enough outside the text’s grip to make it more than a suggestion of a familiarity—lending a very strange edge of known to the unknown.

In this elbow of the void, and in his understanding, our hero (if he could ever in any way be called that), Bauer, finds strange comfort in the manner of his rut within the destruction. His dying wife breath haunts him, and replicates inside him, as he continues to make clay figures, that he also then destroys, creating a cycle of routine, if quite an ill one, in the context of where we’ve ended up.

And in this cycle of creation and destruction within the ruin spot, Bauer finds that he can sleep. For the first time in all of ‘Fugue State’, we are faced with a body who actually can identify and understand the nature of what he has fallen into, or become—the center of the void is indeed a center, if still the blankness, and the ill. There is an odd content to existing in the routine of the skewed rooms—which in its examination begins to feel much like everyday life. The filling of time within the no time. The making to be unmade.

Again, Evenson’s level hand in the recounting of Bauer’s calm progression, so blank it is not even devoid, makes the sunk familiarity of it hit that much harder, for how it feels not hard hit at all. It is every hour.

“The air was wrong, he was still certain the air was wrong, but he was no longer certain it mattered” (130).

A comfortable, waking and unwaking kind of light, made terrible by the sheer fact that eventually, there is nothing left to do but sit at it and look, and perhaps negotiate with the cleaning lady about the matters of the day, as does Bauer among the hours spent in that same room with his wife dying, about which nothing in this sicking room will change, except to feel that much more common on the body, and there. His wife, in her desisting, begins to seem to him more beautiful, more there: “… he felt he should besomehow terrified but he was not” (130).

It is here, in this small and exquisite, awful, room, the void’s void, that the true look into the face of it bears face, a face that can not be rendered, but in the attempt of its rendering, its texture shows.

There is a power to the question asked. To the door cracked open only far enough to see the strangling, wicked light within. It is a power that does not stay where you ask it to stay, as it can not be rendered, and that it is why it is the light. And that is why, in the handling of it, the making of the language of it, there is the itch that learns to ride. That slips into the human body, into the mind, and there learns to reside.

In some ways then, Evenson is only a vessel, a current, though one most honed to catching the shades and ions that many other vessels would only allow to filter through.

Blake Butler is the author of EVER (Calamari Press, 2009) and Scorch Atlas (forthcoming from Featherproof Books). To read his other reviews of the stories in ‘Fugue State’, visit his blog.