Review by Lisa Spieker.
Brian Booker’s debut novel, Are You Here For What I’m Here For? (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016), leaves the reader with a feeling of vague unease. In seven stories, dislocated and troubled characters suffer from rare illnesses, illnesses that remain mostly unnamed and are quite possibly imagined. Even the most mundane of these afflictions are transformed in the characters’ minds until they take on the uncanny quality and significance that everyday objects acquire in fever dreams: Warts on the hands may evolve into rudimentary eyes. Sneezing will have you put into quarantine, possibly for several years. Unrelenting rain causes moods to fester and “a perilous loosening in the delicate structures of the mind” (190).
Booker’s stories are populated by characters and are set in places that at first seem realistic, but turn out to be just a little off; not much, just enough to set you on edge. There are tramps obsessed with the numerology of dreams, a resort guest with “the air of a ruined southern belle” (87), and an obnoxious harbinger of doom. Some stories are set in spaces of otherness, heterotopias that exist in parallel or on the fringes of society and reality. In “Love Trip,” a teenage boy is sent to a boarding school with all the trappings of a New Age cult inspired by the antipsychiatry movement. Pressured to reveal the secret motivations for mentally unbalanced acts he never quite committed, to give up “the lie behind the lie” (241), the boy elaborately describes an invented childhood trauma but becomes increasingly unsure whether he really made it all up. In the story, “A Drowning Accident,” a boy is send to recover from a mysterious sleeping sickness in an East Coast resort reminiscent of the run-down Coney Island freak show in Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. There, “twice daily in the summer [a deep-sea] net was raised from “The Living Gulfs of Doom,” and whatever cold-blooded monstrosities chanced to have been trapped in that abysmal region were dumped on the planks[…], displayed for all to see” (58). Continue reading “Book Review: Are You Here For What I’m Here For?”