Kevin Brockmeier: View from the Seventh Layer

It took me a while to warm to View from the Seventh Layer, but ultimately I was glad I persevered.

“The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device” encapsulates what I liked least about this book. It’s structured as a “choose your own adventure” story that has the scope of a rather ordinary Saturday afternoon in an unnamed city, after the second-person, present-tense viewpoint character has just experienced a seizure-like event. It perhaps poses questions about the inevitability of certain types of outcomes, and about how subjective mundaneness is or isn’t, but it does so with obvious artifice. In several of these stories, the inclusion of fantastic or magical realist elements seems almost a cop out, as if the story wouldn’t be interesting enough without something showily weird. Don’t the dizzying non sequiturs of the title story communicate the main character’s isolation effectively enough without the inclusion of an encounter with some alien/angelic entity? The finely observed “Andrea is Changing Her Name” interrupts itself to announce, “There is no form to this story because it is true, or at least as close to true as I have been able to make it,” which seemed both needlessly post-modern and too obvious to be worth stating.

In point of fact, it was one of the most naturalistic and conventional narratives that won me over. In “Home Videos,” a man working for a thinly-fictionalized America’s Funniest Home Videos finds himself increasingly intrigued by the un-airable submissions from one woman. It sounds like the setup for a terrible, formulaic romantic comedy, but throughout the story, Brockmeier flirts with the easy and expected outcomes, then does something subtly different.

More than the intrusion of strangeness, what makes this volume cohere is how profoundly alienated virtually all of Brockmeier’s characters are. The self-proclaimed fables interspersed throughout are almost Kafakaesque sketches about the difficulty, if not impossibility, of communication. “A Fable Containing a Reflection the Size of a Match Head in Its Pupil” is perhaps the bluntest of these. It opens, “Once there was a city where people did not look one another in the eye,” but I have the impression that very few of the people in this book would be truly comfortable meeting another’s gaze.

needs more demons? No.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

One thought on “Kevin Brockmeier: View from the Seventh Layer

  1. Coincidentally, I had just read Brockmeier’s “The Year of Silence” in a short story anthology and thought you’d enjoy it — particularly the author’s note describing his having become unusually sensitive to noise.

    I liked the story, but couldn’t help wishing that I was reading Donald Barthleme’s “The Balloon” instead.


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