book Post-Modern Hijinx

reviewed by Richard Holinger

Published in Issue No. 170 ~ July, 2011

Sloth. Mark Goldblatt. Greenpoint Press, 2010. $16.00. 173 pp.

You can’t get around it: talk about Mark Goldblatt’s novel, Sloth, and you will start alluding to other post-modern novels. Surely the author is sitting on the sidelines cheering us on, as the referential characters, situations and language indulge our reminiscences. Whether or not Mr. Goldblatt had anxieties regarding his influences, I don’t know, but they served him well.

The main character and narrator, whose name remains a mystery–one of the mind games the author plays with us—reminds one of Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s pederast from Lolita. He, too, shares an unreliable narrator status, his lust for Holly Servant pure and innocent, according to him, just as Humbert tries to convince us of his virtue regarding his love object. “But I am no solipsist,” he muses, the dramatic irony evident through his desire for a woman he knows only through an exercise video.

Speaking of the love object, Holly Servant might be a more vacuous incarnation of Capote’s Holly Golightly, a kind of free-wheeling sprite. And the author-as-character theme gets played throughout the novel, the author admitting in Flaubertian dramatic fashion “C’est moi” when referring to himself as in control when taking a pill as a psychology experiment, also suggesting the whole episode with Holly and his friend Zezel, or Mark Goldblatt, is an illusion or hallucination.

The doppelganger motif builds throughout the novel, a Secret Sharer influence, surely. Is Zezel the narrator’s alter-ego? A best friend? A journalist who uses the author’s name to create a Joycean metafiction so much like an Escher print that the reader becomes both ecstatic and annoyed when shifting through its verbal minefields? “Mark Goldblatt is a fiction,” the narrator tells Holly toward the end of the novel. “He’s a fiction I created before we ever met.” To add another layer of ambiguity, Goldblatt, the novel’s author, dedicates the book to Holly, “…now and forever.”

The novel revels in the play between art and reality. Finally sitting next to Holly, the narrator still considers the possibility of her a work of art rather than a living, palpable human being. Or is it he who is not there? “Here, then, is the distance that divides art and life, the distance that renders every work of art a failure.” He despises himself for acting like a verbalizing cliché, a predictable cad.

And yet, Holly loves him. Is she analogous to Frankenstein’s creation, able to live only when not harnessed to her maker? Is she the narrator’s product, who must be given a chance to make it on her own? Holly is idealized in the narrator’s mind, just as he is in hers. A marriage made in heaven or hell?

Read Sloth, and like curvaceous movies such as Memento and Inception, you’ll want to start over and read it through again to see what you missed. It’s like a Rubik’s cube that no matter how many ways it’s turned, the colors don’t quite add up. Nor would you want them to.

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Richard Holinger's poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Iowa Review and The Southern Review, and has received three Pushcart Prize nominations. He lives in the Fox Valley west of Chicago, where hew rites a column for a local newspaper.