- Loop of Discontent
264 Pages; Print, $14.95
Some books progress through unified narrative, some by way of linked images, or recurring characters, or recurring form. Trevor Dodge’s The Laws of Average does none of these things and instead bounds forward using repeated rhetorical devices. While the settings and characters run the gamut of experience and possibility; and change with each successive story, repeated use of the tongue-in-cheek epistolary (“Dear James Frey,” “Dear Other Trevor Dodge”), the tongue-in-cheek how-to guide (“Unsolicited Advice”—there’s ten of these), and frank suggestions for after-death hi-jinx (“When You’re Dead You Can Do Whatever You Want”—also ten), serve as apt unifying factors. Picasso once said, “A great painting comes together, just barely.” And without these tricks, Dodge’s book might likely fly apart entirely.
Since it’s hard to say what this book is about—in seeming to be about nearly everything, it seems best to start with description. In about 260 pages, the book is broken into ten unnumbered sections of six stories each. The first story in each section is a short one titled “Unsolicited Advice” in which we learn primarily methods to navigate a painful break-up. “Try your absolute hardest not to be swayed or comforted when Sig. Other says It’s Not a Competition. Because it is,” the wise and snarky ur-narrator tells us. With the introduction of a firearm in the first instance of “Unsolicited Advice,” to the possible death of the second-person address in the last (where the narrator makes reference to “this last conscious act of yours on the planet,” and holds somewhat faithful to Chekov’s gun law) these stories also run a rough narrative arc.
Each of the ten six-story sections ends with an equally ephemeral piece entitled “When You’re Dead You Can Do Whatever You Want.” Are we to believe this you—now dead—is the same you addressed in the “Unsolicited Advice” stories? [End Page 20] Perhaps. Probably. Though a clear connection was not made to this reader, the book becomes a more cohesive whole if we are to consider this as the grand structure from which the other narratives hang. There are, of course, minor meta-narrative moments, if one chooses to read them as such, as when we are told, “leaps in pattern recognition are necessary to make anything there useful, and be mindful of your own tendency towards jumping to conclusions.” Through this meta reading, though, the “you” becomes reader “you.” Which means then maybe we all have to die to make this book complete.
The Laws of Average does not stop at capturing a world. It captures many worlds, familiar and not-so. It not only makes us the “you” of narrator address, it takes us slow-dancing to Bon Jovi in a junior high gymnasium. It puts us in the home of a perverted elderly couple (Firecracker and Flame) by way of their possibly abused grandchildren. It puts us time and again on the road and in the car with variously impaired drivers at the wheel. It’s at its best when Dodge experiments with form, as in the collage pieces and list-like stories that pop up from time to time, where we can be witness to Dodge’s chaos of thoughts and images organized just slightly without losing their weft and energy on the page.
What I mean to say about Trevor Dodge’s The Laws of Average is that it’s a puzzle, mathematical. I’ve detailed nothing yet about the stories themselves, those hanging from the frame. They are in a word: competent, skillful, and interesting. That’s three. While this reader clung to the supporting structure, the specifics of the characters introduced and stories worked through mostly evaporated into a few striking images and situations and the overall understanding that Dodge had something large in mind when constructing this book as a whole. It is an ambitious and imminently readable tome. The stories themselves are in fact so skillfully crafted...