Book Review - Field guide to Blake Butler
In anticipation of his seventh book, Sky Saw, a look at Butler's work so far
1,738 — that's the number of hard pages Blake Butler has published over the course of seven books since EVER came out in January of 2009. This, of course, is not counting the author's contributions to HTMLGiant, Vice, Lamination Colony, No Colony, and other corners of the Web. It took four book drafts for him to realize that traditional narrative was not his friend. As Butler stated in a 2011 CL cover story, "I think all things are real, except for maybe what's considered real, realism. Anytime people try to confine life to this A-to-B story, that's just not how it feels, at all. Even if the action is A-to-B. Everything is bigger than those things."
His latest, Sky Saw, will be released by Tyrant on Dec. 11. It's hard not to pity the reader approaching Butler's rapidly multiplying bibliography for the first time. It is a collection of pages-long, anxiety-filled sentences, where there is no such thing as a traditional narrative arc; where sentences are dismantled and the people, generally unnamed, are barbaric and haunted, disfigured and struggling. So, in anticipation of Sky Saw's publication, here is a field guide to Butler's work so far.
EVER, Jan. 2009 Fiction; Calamari Press, 104pp
Description: An exploration of how we are tied to our homes and how our homes are tied to us. Butler takes a metaphysical journey to consider the body's relationship within space.
Recurring imagery/subjects: Walls, light, foundation
Quote: "At first our local leaders tried to zone around the madness, to block off damaged sects with panes of glass, but the error swung so often, the glass just magnified the problem — the shatter echoed in the ground"
Dimensions: 6.9 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
SCORCH ATLAS, Sept. 2009 [Fiction, Featherproof Books, 188pp]
Description: Brutal stories of the world's decay. Parents either disappear or are consumed by mud, treachery, or their children. A father is just as likely to go to jail for missing a free throw as his son is likely to swell up to the size of the attic. This is not your average apocalypse.
Recurring imagery/subjects: Boils, melting skies, disintegrating homes, ash
Quote: "We spend uncounted ugly evenings with nowhere to look but at each other. When the TV finally came back, the news stations had such a backlog they began to list the names of the dead between commercials like the credits to some movie we wished we'd never seen."
Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.4 x 8.9 inches
THERE IS NO YEAR, April 2011 Fiction; Harper Perennial, 416pp
Description: Butler's personal twist on a nuclear family drama. Mother, father, and son move into a new home only to find molded duplicates of themselves, insect infestations, and other terrors waiting to plague their days.
Recurring imagery/subjects: Home, eggs, cells, insects
Quote: "The only thing that made the family different from the copy family was instead of teeth the copy family's mouths were lined with mold. As well, the copy son appeared exhausted, sticky. He had dark meat around his eyes."
Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
NOTHING: A PORTRAIT OF INSOMNIA, Oct. 2011 Non-fiction; Harper Perennial, 336pp
Description: A swan dive into insomnia, Butler doesn't just explain his life, but welcomes you in and leaves you in the entryway with nothing but a fitful lamp. In the pulsing you'll catch glimpses of his existence: his father's early onset dementia, the Internet, his family, David Foster Wallace, depression, his restlessness.
Recurring imagery/subjects: heaviness, loss, the Internet, memory, exhaustion
Quote: "The house somehow more alive than it has ever been, but not at all here yours, and you inside such watching buried in you under all the you of you you aren't."
Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
ANATOMY COURSES, Jan. 2012 (with Sean Kilpatrick) Fiction; Lazy Fascist Press, 132pp
Description: Don't be fooled by the title — this isn't a textbook. Its lessons are not cumulative or deductive. Kilpatrick and Butler teach through destruction by breaking down structure everywhere it lives: the skin, the bone, the sentence, the words.
Recurring imagery/subjects: Skin, fathers, mothers, wombs, pigskin
Quote: "Pray for balloons during the father's placenta. Jump the kiss right out of his flay. How he was born made a toy of the ghetto. Suck skinny lotions douse his sway. Howdy y'all."
Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.3 inches
ONE, Nov. 2012 (with Vanessa Place, assembled by Christopher Higgs) Fiction, Roof Books, 152 pp
Description: A one-legged father haunts the memory of a remote being. Division is experienced on every plane.
Recurring imagery/subjects: Legs, father, legality
Quote: "If one had a nickel for every bit of nothing one cradled and put to bed, there'd be a sea of change, that's all.""
Dimensions: 6 x 9 x .5 inches
SKY SAW, Dec. 2012 [Fiction; Tyrant Books, 200pp]
Description: Humanity is numbered and contained in obscene rooms and landscapes, constantly observed and humiliated. Person 1180 — a woman — gives birth to innumerable wretched children. Person 2030 — a child — escapes from the only room he has known to spend 37 years wandering in darkness.
Recurring imagery/subjects: Darkness, years, white, foam
Quote: "He pulled at the door and banged at the door and shook himself against the face of the door unchanging until there was nothing left about his finders or his hands. He turned around and found the world."
Dimensions: 7.8 x 6 x 0.9 inches
Editor's Note: This article has been updated.