Imagine literally unpacking “et cetera”

News Section, Reviews

October 2nd, 2012


(Review) S P R A W L

The Rumpus


Originally Published on November 4th, 2010


“Dear Mrs. McLuhan: The end of a tube of toothpaste can cause guilty feelings and a sense of alienation. It’s a question of family values. You make the call.”

Imagine literally unpacking et cetera. This is what Dutton’s experimental novel, Sprawl, aspires to do. Sprawl is a double entendre—written in single sentences with no paragraph breaks whatsoever, its prose affects a sprawling internal monologue of a female protagonist; the title also locates the novel in the suburbs, which, like et cetera, could go on forever.

In a letter at the beginning of the book, the author addresses the reader through thinly veiled narration about her literary project:

Dear Mrs. Baxter, Welcome. Your earnest and expensive skepticism is otherworldly. For this reason, I advise you to take two or three sheets of paper and make a journal of anything remarkable that occurs in the next few days. Idle romances, typographical reproductions, eye- and ear-witness testimony, the reality of our special community—I recommend all these pleasures to you now.

More than just recommending the pleasures of being cultural tourists in our collective American reality show, Dutton crafts these pleasures through the narrator’s keen observations, perceptions, and remarks. She takes sentences of average length and conforms them to a woman’s uninterrupted stream-of-consciousness as our narrator, a housewife in a fraying marriage, reports on life with wide-eyed fascination, as though experienced accidentally through her body:

I nod and return to my book: “Take any normal street of average length and just consider all that fucking!”

A moment after the narrator’s exclamatory thought, sex resurfaces in local scenery: a kid on the street says, “Rocketry.” Another kid says, “Oomph.” Broccoli quiche on the table “arouses” her. Over time, her inner monologue distills the strange and sensual essence of the suburbs from its profusion of stuff; though sometimes overdetermined, this structure allows Sprawl to deliver small, associative delights.

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