September 2010
A review of


by Eugene Marten

Central question: Did the apocalypse already happen?
Plot summary: Jelonnek, a white state employee and cheap beer alcoholic takes off on a cross-country road trip with Littlebit, an African American crack-addicted prostitute, and Miss D, her daughter; after complications they settle in the Pacific Northwest; Section titles: “Jelonnek” and “Nigger Heaven”; Gripe: Gratuitous snippets from Jelonnek’s postapocalyptic screenplay, when the world here given already feels as brutish as The Road; Representative dialogue: “‘Is it still Wyomee?’ Miss D asked. ‘Yeh it is,’ Littlebit said.‘Wyomee getting old,’ Miss D concluded, and Littlebit agreed. ‘Wyomee broke us down. Ain’t you gonna throw up the lid?’ she said to Jelonnek.”

Kafka’s “The Wish to Be a Red Indian” gives us the fantasy of riding a horse, shedding spurs and reins, until (in the Muir translation) one “hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly shorn heath when horse’s neck and head would already be gone.” In Eugene Marten’s third novel, a road trip through a mid-’90s America dominated by racial fears, poverty, numbness, paranoia, and violence, we see a similar erasure:

Faint outcroppings of earth against the evening sky and Jelonnek thought they would have at least that.

Then these were gone and there was only what they could see at the corner of their eye, and this was taken and still night fell, and stole and fell, till there was only the ragged patch of light in front of them through which the distance poured, and it seemed this would be encroached as well, then the headlights, the dashboard, and finally even the faculty of sight so that nothing would be left to them but motion and darkness.

Let’s start with lyrical beauty. One of the wonders of Firework is that while the bulk of its scenes is driven by terse menace (in contrast with the open ending of the Kafka story, narrative and car will have broken down two pages later, leading to an encounter with a state trooper that balances on an excruciating knife-edge of potential violence), the author’s style allows for aggressive dilations. Transcriptions of local news footage, or a several-hundred-word dare-you-to-skim-it list of bureaucratic forms, or a description of “the futile early flying contraption” of a blue heron (perfect, right?) emerge between ugly runs of dialogue and blunt descriptions of people doing harm to other people and animals, or waiting to.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Mark Edmund Doten

Mark Edmund Doten is the managing editor of Soho Press. His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Guernica, and the Collagist.

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