Forgotten Work

By Jason Guriel

Forgotten Work
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"Strange and affectionate, like Almost Famous penned by Shakespeare. A love letter to music in all its myriad iterations. "—Kirkus Reviews

In the year 2063, on the edge of the Crater formerly known as Montréal, a middle-aged man and his ex’s daughter search for a cult hero: ... Read more


Overview

"Strange and affectionate, like Almost Famous penned by Shakespeare. A love letter to music in all its myriad iterations. "—Kirkus Reviews

In the year 2063, on the edge of the Crater formerly known as Montréal, a middle-aged man and his ex’s daughter search for a cult hero: the leader of a short-lived band named after a forgotten work of poetry and known to fans through a forgotten work of music criticism. In this exuberantly plotted verse novel, Guriel follows an obsessive cult-following through the twenty-first century. Some things change (there’s metamorphic smart print for music mags; the Web is called the “Zuck”). Some things don’t (poetry readings are still, mostly, terrible). But the characters, including a robot butler who stands with Ishiguro’s Stevens as one of the great literary domestics, are unforgettable.

Splicing William Gibson with Roberto Bolaño, Pale Fire with Thomas Pynchon, Forgotten Work is a time-tripping work of speculative fiction. It’s a love story about fandom, an ode to music snobs, a satire on the human need to value the possible over the actual—and a verse novel of Nabokovian virtuosity.

Jason Guriel

Jason Guriel is the author of several collections of poems and a book of essays. His writing has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic, and other magazines. He lives in Toronto.

Excerpt

1.

Hubert’s favorite work was Mountain Tea.

It’s why he’d gotten into poetry.

He loved a stylish sentence. Strong vibratos.

He loved that Amis book about castratos,

The one that has a character called “Hubert. ”

He loved to say he loved the works of Schubert.

Most of all, he loved to love great books.

His earnest views, though, often earned him looks

Of pity. Books are “texts,” and love? All wrong.

The point of reading (someone paused, mid-bong,

To tell him) isn’t pleasure or escapism;

The point is pointing out the hidden racism,

Sexism, and/or classism of the text—

Which left the English major feeling vexed.

He’d found himself inside the sort of dorm

Where young men, parroting their profs, perform

The part of well-read mind and talk til dawn

Of Butler, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan,

And other luminaries of the Left.

But Hubert, waving off the bong, soon left.

A life-sized holo Scarface followed him,

Machine gun swiveling.

At home, his dim

Room, sensing movement, raised the lights a notch.

To raise his spirits, Hubert liked to watch

The sort of film his classmates liked to hate

Or label “problematic. ” “Ziri, 8

1/2,” he said. “First scene. ” He yawned and sank

Down on his futon. In his fauna tank,

A sleeping bonsai panther wagged its tail.

The mail had yet to beam down on the mail

Pad by the door.

The smart paint on his wall

Began to play Fellini’s picture. (Small

Dead spots, where paint had chipped, stood out like stone

In rushing water. ) Artists work alone,

The picture seemed to say. It was about

A film director, Guido, wracked with doubt

About his half-formed film, while all around

Distractions—mistress, wife, and actors—hound

Our hero. Hubert liked the lesson: men

Directing films have merely swapped out pen

For megaphone. They pick and place their herds

Of extras as a poet would his words—

Though their words, armed with legs, will often wander

Off.

Fellini’s man had paused to ponder

Life. His wife, it seemed, thought he’d outgrown her.

But Hubert liked that Guido was a loner

Floating like a god above the fray.

Of course, he knew that those who brood the way

Fellini’s privileged male director does

Ignore the drones enabling them, the buzz

Of labour on the set. And yet he felt

The self behind each scene. The cult band Felt,

The poet Frost, Fellini—Hubert knew

Their work expressed their souls, which passed clean through

Our sieve-like theories. Souls were real, the art

They made the proof.

The film had reached the part

Where Guido and his wife explore the set

That’s been constructed for the film he’s yet

To start: a giant spaceship’s skeleton,

The sort of ship some blob of gelatin

With tendrils would attack. The science fiction

Of a simpler age. He loved this vision,

Hubert, of a future that would never

Happen now. He pictured it whenever

He imagined what tomorrow might

Be like. Fellini’s spaceship, poised for flight,

Was dated now, a silly dream, but in

Its time, it gleamed. Likewise, a dorsal fin

Was de rigueur when navigating stars

In 1960s Jetsons bubble cars.

And in the novel Neuromancer, human

Beings—jacked in, wearing trodes—would zoom in

On vast tiers of data; outer space

Had been replaced by pre-Zuck “cyberspace,”

Which Hubert figured would’ve looked like Tron:

The ground a grid your avatar slid on.

The futures we prefer have long since passed.

Tomorrow is interred inside the past.

***

Hubert loved looking back. He’d waved off eye

Replacements; Hubert had a glasses guy

Who sourced assorted old-school gear for old

Souls and their skulls. His frames were bold,

As quaint as whalebone corsets, hunting foxes,

iPhones, and those primitive Xboxes

That weren’t implanted but, instead, sat on

Your furniture. He loved the off-brand dawn

His window ran, recorded when the sun

Could still be seen. He loved such stuff as Fun

House, Horses, Astral Weeks, The La’s, Pet Sounds,

Thomas Disch’s essays, Ezra Pound’s

Translations, Orson Welles as Harry Lime

(The Third Man), poetry that dares to rhyme,

The books of Paula Fox, the bass of Carol

Kaye, that moment when the poet Daryl

Hine compares some “love-disordered linen”

To “brackish water. ” Hubert longed for hymns in

Churches, first editions, and constraint.

He loved the room he rented in a quaint

Toronto house. He loved artisanal walks.

(He wouldn’t teleport. ) He thought Talk Talk’s

Last record music’s cloud-wreathed apex; Toto

Its nadir.

On the mail pad, MOJO

Materialized. (The mail beamed in at night. )

“Pause. ” The wall became a black-and-white

Tintype: Fellini’s hero’s face in doubt.

(One eye, where paint had chipped, appeared burned out. )

Hubert watched his mag, like Star Trek sand,

Take shimmering shape, then touched it with a hand:

Still warm.

There was the standard MOJO mix

Of articles, reviews, and concert pics.

There also was an obit for Oasis;

The aging band had fused and perished, faces

Picassoed, mop tops mixed—a teleporter

Mishap while on tour. One shrewd reporter,

Who’d glimpsed the Cubist mess, could not refrain

From wit: the band’s two stars now shared one brain,

Which was ironic; Liam and Noel, rock gods

And warring brothers, spent their lives at odds.

But now their hearts, once split in two, were one

Big mashup of a muscle in a ton

Of flesh—the band’s last huddle.

Noel’s song “Slide

Away” was playing; Hubert had subscribed

To MOJOplus, the upper-price-point version

Of the mag—and Hubert’s main diversion

From the grind of grad school. MOJOplus,

On pixiepaper, was superfluous,

But awesome. If you tapped a tintype (what

His folks once called “a foto”) it would strut

Or speak or turn into a talking head

Voiceovering some footage. If you read

About a song, the page might start to play

Its chords. That said, the reader had no say

In when concentric liquid ripples might

Begin to spread across the text, a white

And foamy head of Stella swallowing

The type; or when the letters, following

Their own discreet imperatives, might swarm

Like filings in magnetic fields to form

A BMW. A barnacle

Of kale might crawl across an article

And bloom into an ad for superfood.

Your MOJOplus could analyze your mood,

Decide you need more sleep, and push a pill

Designed for you alone—bespoke ZzzQuil.

On pixiepaper, type, no longer black

And fixed, could stretch, divide, curl up, go slack,

And vanish. Pics could puddle, spread, and blend,

Like Rorschach blots set loose.

Towards the end

Of every MOJO was the “Buried Treasure”

Essay. This one-page feature took the measure

Of some minor work time had forgot

To, well, forget or scrub from human thought:

The sort of record that was out of print

Or went for hundreds when described as “mint. ”

And it was this page, in the June edition,

Hubert later likened to a vision.

Reviews

Praise for Forgotten Work

“What do you get when you throw John Shade, Nick Drake, Don Juan, Sarah Records, and Philip K. Dick into a rhymed couplet machine? Equal parts memory and forgetting, detritus and elegy, imagination and fancy, Forgotten Work could be the most singular novel-in-verse since Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. Thanks to Jason Guriel’s dexterity in metaphor-making, I found myself stopping and rereading every five lines or so, to affirm my surprise and delight. ”—Stephen Metcalf

“This book has no business being as good as it is. Heroic couplets in the twenty-first century? It’s not a promising idea, but Forgotten Work is intelligent, fluent, funny, and wholly original. I can’t believe it exists. ”—Christian Wiman

"This may be the first rock 'n’ roll novel written in iambic pentameter . .. strange and affectionate, like Almost Famous penned by Shakespeare. A love letter to music in all its myriad iterations. "—Kirkus Reviews

"A feast of allusions—musical, literary, and cinematic—is the book’s most entertaining aspect, and it speaks to the powerful currents flowing between artists and artworks across disciplines, as well as to the effect of art on its consumers . .. Guriel’s bountiful celebration of connections between art finds an inspiring, infectious groove. "—Publishers Weekly

Praise for Jason Guriel

“What sets Guriel apart is the inescapable tone of his writing. It’s obvious from reading him: he is having fun … The best of his verse is infused with wit, irony, and the ghosts of his influences. ”—Quill & Quire

“Guriel is the consummate stylist, and every poem in Satisfying Clicking Sound has plenty of flourish. ”—Maisonneuve

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