The reader of a good book can hear the narrator speaking, can even envision the narrator’s gestures and facial expressions. Dactyl Review contributing editor, U. R. Bowie consistently produces fiction that animates itself in the reader’s mind. And now this, an audiobook of Bowie’s short story collection, Such Is the Scent of Our Sweet Opalescence (Ogee Zakamora, 148 pages), read by the author. (Paperback also available.) The narrator of title story is Uretherer V. Lamb, a character reminiscent of one of Kurt Vonnegut’s memorable creations. The story opens when U.V. is struck by lighting in the midst of taking a leak roadside. He meets death, in the form of grinning Delmas W. Pruitt, but somehow U.V. cheats Delmas and goes on to live his life as a “backslider” without a soul, it seems.
Although he has never been beyond the gates himself, the apparent synesthete, Delmas, reports that the great beyond smells like a “pearly pink,” “sweet opalescence” or, more accessibly, “papaya pulp.” The collection is rife with descriptions that are at once impossible abstractions and earthy and literal. It two words, it’s magical realism.
Bowie fits out this U.V. character with a world and a profession that suit the story. U.V., who lives on of Peter Higgs street, is a pataphysician, engaged with the “science of that which is induced upon metaphysics,” working at a particle collider research center analyzing quarks, which like him, violate all the acceptable laws of physics, as he is “stuck in the liminality of being.” Specifically, U.V.’s job is to “finagle” the Higgs-Boson, aka “God particle” in ways that are not quite kosher. His work, supported by a grant from Procter and Gamble,
entailed using all his research on quarks, tetraquarks and such thingumadoodles as a way of precisely logging into the feelings of people all over the world. Then he was to mine those feelings for what could be got out them, quarking them up in the collider, and after that he would, according to mission of his enterprise, “put the feelings together again and ransom the feeling back to those persons who had had the feelings in the first place.” It was, basically, a way of making big money for P & G out of reading homosapiens, then telling them things about themselves they needed to know–or didn’t. Either way the smashed quarks did the job and made the moolah.
After backsliding from the “by and by,” U.V. starts to question his purpose and wonders whether or not the work he has committed his life to really benefits humanity in any way. He begins to crave the death he passed up.
There are so many possible puns through the narrative that the reader or listener can hardly tell where they are or aren’t. U.V. may be ultra violet light. “Uretherer” points to the urethra and the hero’s prostrate troubles; Procter and Gamble point to proctology and games of chance. The description of U.V.’s work seems to take a shot at Big Science/Big Data. Every line is crackling with barely hidden jokes and asides.
Throughout the collection, Bowie does not relate a narrative anywhere near the vicinity of objective distance. Nay, he steers clear of it entirely. He does not try to “get out of the way” of the story and let it “tell itself.” By creating narrators who are as much part of the story as the narrated events themselves, he really “tells” instead of “shows” and/or eliminates the distinction between the two. As in the Dickensian tradition, Bowie’s narrators personify the story themes. In “Sweet Opalescence,” Bowie may be alluding to the discovery that objectivity doesn’t even exist quite the way we once thought it did even in the physical world, where, at the most fundamental level, particles of matter/energy aren’t even themselves and themselves alone, but reflections their context and interactors. We may conclude that in the universe of fiction, the narrator is the most important part of telling a story, and he is, in fact, the story itself.
Click on the book cover image to listen to a sample of the audiobook.
–V.N. Alexander, author of Chance the Mimics Choice (short story collection in manuscript).