Tuesday, January 18, 2011

69, 70

When writing my last post, I completely forgot about a novel I needed to read - 69, 70 by Natalija Grgorinic and Ognjen Raden, available from Brown Paper Publishing. It arrived in the mail last Saturday, and I'm only about a quarter of the way through, but the story of how the book came to me, and how it was written, is almost as interesting as the book itself. So I thought I'd write a little bit about it.

Late in December, while browsing through the forums at a writers networking site (The Sphere), I found an announcement for a book club in which the publisher (Brown Paper Publishing) would send out a free edition from its catalog in exchange for a reader's feedback to the book's author(s). Even though I have a stack of unread books that every week grows increasingly taller on my bedside table, I thought it was an interesting concept and something I'd enjoy participating in. So I sent an email to the publisher, Pablo D'Stair, who promptly replied that I'd made it into the first group of readers.

Prior to receiving the book, I did a brief internet search of its authors, reading a blurb for an earlier book, Mr. & Mrs. Hyde, in which I noted the unusual concept at the heart of this duo's practice: "Having sworn to always write as a team, the authors are completing a dissertation at Case Western Reserve on the history and practice of collaborative writing." While I've read collaborative poems, and even participated in a few, I don't recall ever coming across a novel written in this fashion.

Though such a practice doesn't appeal much to a writer like me, the results are intriguing. Thus far, 69, 70 interweaves Grgorinic's and Raden's two voices almost seamlessly into a rather distinct voice of its own. Though the book routinely alternates between the perspective of its primary (and seemingly biographical) male and female characters, I can't help but wonder if its authors alternate between writing the gendered roles in an effort to further explore the intimate, combined "self" at the book's core.

Beyond these thoughts - which are not at all a distraction from the book's occasionally self-referential narrative - 69, 70 is an almost mad rush of interrelational streams of consciousness that redeem its purposeful excess by rewarding a reader with the regular occurrence of well-stated, sometimes hilarious moments of social observation and postmodern reflection.

It's a difficult book to describe - one in which readers of traditional narrative might easily become lost, bored, or maybe even derisive - but it's also a book that makes me laugh out loud at least once on every page. Not because it is necessarily all that funny, or a comedic novel, but because some of the clauses in the frequently long and rambling sentences that make up the novel's structure are so well-formed and insightful that I take absolute delight in their reading. I don't know if this book is for everyone - and I seriously doubt it is intended to be - but if you enjoy novels that aren't afraid to experiment and take bold chances on narrative structure, it's worth a look.

As for the collaborative practice of writing, I'm fairly impressed. If such an idea strikes your fancy as a writer, check out the authors' website for Admit Two. You may find a potential publishing home for your own collaborative ventures.

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