On a Sunday morning in a Washington park, James Sim – loner and professional mnemonist (someone who can memorize large amounts of data) – is witness to the aftermath of a stabbing. With his dying breath, Thomas McHale tells James: “I was one of them, but I left, and they didn’t want me to leave. Have you seen the paper? Samedi? The conspirators? I was one of them…You must do it. You must expose them.” The “them” in question is a group of individuals who commit suicide in front of the White House, one each day, all bearing a message from Samedi of doom to come on the seventh day.
McHale leaves James with a few clues; however, he is loath to get involved until a chance encounter with a young woman spurs him to action. James sets off to follow the dead man’s clues and, in the process, ends up a prisoner in an asylum for liars. As he searches for truth amidst the lies, James struggles to find out who Samedi is and what will happen on the seventh day.
Samedi the Deafness is the very strange novel from poet Jesse Ball. His language is terse yet lyrical, evoking a feeling that each word is carefully planned for and placed. “He looked at the napkin. He felt then that there were two of them in the room, he and the napkin, and that one of them would have to go. He crumpled up the napkin.” Even when dialogue is of little sense to the reader, each word is weighty:
“James drew from his pocket a book, drew from the book a pressed flower, and shook from the flower a bit of stone shaped like a crescent moon.
– Here it is, he said. I found it in the passage by the cellar.
They were both silent. Grieve took the stone.
– You mustn’t got there again, she said. You might meet me there, and then we would be through.
A dark name like a walking stick broken in anger.
– When I am out on the wind, said Grieve, I wear four arms and the trails of my dress consume me.
– Before you say any more, said James, say no more.
And so no more was said.”
As Ball states in an interview, “
Samedi is an investigation of lies and responsibility.” Despite this clear statement of intent, and the ease with which it reads, reality is quickly undermined in Samedi. This is a novel which will frustrate, confound and challenge readers, who will quickly feel as if they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, into a David Lynch film where political commentary is provided by Hunter S. Thompson.
This is not a comfortable read, just when the reader is sure they’ve understood what is happening, Ball flips the tables. He delights in misdirection. Not only is the main female character named Grieve, but many of the maids are named Grieve as well. Nothing in the verisylum is simple: characters’ dialogue can’t be trusted as this is an asylum for liars; the house is a veritable labyrinth with absurd rules of conduct; and it is often unclear which residents are patients and which are the staff. At times the confusion is such that readers may wonder if James is a patient of the asylum and early events are purely his delusions. Lies form the foundation of Samedi the Deafness – but can truth be found in the midst of deceit?
The character of Samedi has direct ties to “Baron Samedi,” the all-knowing loa of death from the Voodoo tradition, known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery. It should come as no surprise that Ball has chosen to take that disruptive influence for his work which undermines the very concept of the novel.
His underlining message is vital; readers who choose to fall into his dream world will find unexpected and important rewards hidden within.
Read a condensed review at Armchair Interviews.
Read the full review at Curled Up with a Good Book.
Publisher: Vintage Original
Publication Date: September 4, 2007
Author Website: www.jesseball.com