Stuart Crawford: IMG_8095, 2010 (CC)
by Joe Linker
Obscure and Irregular
Eli S. Evans
Lawrence: Moon Rabbit Books, 2021. 53 pp
When we study the characteristics of a writer’s writing habits, as it were, as reflected in the writing itself, that is, as opposed to, say, a bit of info glimpsed in a short bio or silly staged selfie, we may discover a deliberate arrangement of words, text, doodles, if you will, that, when brought together in the frame of a book (one that one holds in one’s hands, smells the paper and ink thereof, hears the rustles and bends [it] of the pages, slips into one’s pocket for the bus ride) – discover, as I was saying, or trying to say, the parts of a work of art that give the whole its allure. Such, or something like it, was my experience with “Obscure and Irregular”, stories by Eli S. Evans.
What are these characteristics as found in Eli’s stories? The long, for one, sentence, where writing is a process of piling up, saving, a constant moving forward, but with hesitancies, pauses, a bike ride, a skateboard trip. Observation is key. And reflection. But what remains obscure and irregular isn’t the topic or subject, for these are commonplace: a colonoscopy, a banana, a pair of shoes (running), a friend, a street. What is obnubilated is how these experiences of seeing and thinking are brought forth. A personality unfolds, stretching its long legs for the telling. In “Rastafarian Banana”, for example: three paragraphs over four pages and only eleven (but long) sentences. But easy to read. That’s the rub; one doesn’t feel the obscure or the irrelevant – these turn out to be everyday stories, told with a keen sense of the now, the real, the regular.
At first, readers may think there’s not going to be any plotting. Not so – the action turns like a wide articulated bus rounding a curb: “… and that was when I passed, on my right, a rather unexpected sight: curbside in front of an old farmstead-style house, not architecturally atypical of the region, someone had deposited a large stuffed banana…” (10). And the story also contains three small drawings, cartoons, illustrating the action. Such drawings are found throughout Eli’s book, reminding one of one’s first literary experiences. In other words, illustrated (by Patrick Giroux).
Tom Lee: The Wildlife Cafe, 2019 (CC)
The stories are organised by category: “Care & Feeding”; “Social Relations”; “Modern Medicine”; “Street Culture”; “Distracted Driving”. Distracted writing, one might characterise. Yet, again, the writing, the stories, are everyday experiences, relevant and immediate, mostly told in the present tense, first person, so there is an immediacy, and tension is created by the roundabout style of getting there. Carefully wrought, comes to mind. The stories are, in sum, enjoyable, even fun. Where do they come from? A bit of searching and you might find some actual sources that get filtered through a particularly imaginative imagination. Thus Evans brings to life the ordinary along the way, punctuated with literary (if not academic) devices: the footnote, every kind of punctuation mark, details inviting further research (the “Banish Lumber”, for example, from the story “A Passing Thought”, would appear to refer to the three generation shop in Chester, MA, since 1932; while the banana from the lead story also would appear to be rooted in reality), bulleted formatting, detail within detail, clarifications and amplifications, additions, the lean to.
Perhaps the most successfully engineered story in terms of structure and the blending of form and content is “Street, Two Ways”. We follow two paragraphs side-by-side and make a turn onto the wrong street, a “bit of cartographic whimsy” (42).
We find ourselves in New Hampshire, or Mexico, driving about, or at home, and writing and thinking ahead, but always in the now of life, and how that feels. Explanations abound, so there’s little ambiguity, except that created by a surplus of amplification and clarification, that process of adding on, digressing, stretching the sentences, lengthening, but never has the run-on felt so natural, the way one actually thinks when caught up in the now – where only a dash will work, or parenthesis; or a semi-colon which correctly both connects and separates simultaneously.
Highly, as the saying goes, recommend this book, “Obscure and Irregular”, by Eli S. Evans. Specifically recommended for the coffee café, where one might enjoy a mini Proustian moment over an espresso break, or for the bus ride to or fro, or for the wait in some line that might feel like a sentence should one like to feel oneself at home in a paragraph or a story. Never has the ordinary felt more extraordinary.
About the Author
Joe Linker lives in Portland, Oregon and blogs at The Coming of the Toads.