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I Am the Bird

by TM Wright

(PS Publishing, 2006; 143 pages.)

Review by William P Simmons

cover scanAn explorer of experiences out-of-joint with preconceptions of normalcy, specializing in characters neither quite belonging to this world or the next, T.M. Wright creates terror by unearthing the surreal mystery and nightmares of the everyday. He does this with deft descriptions of this seemingly banal world, emphasizing such with a dream-like, highly personal style and textual structures that mirror the insanity of his anti-plots. It is precisely this uneven, terrifying balancing act between the recognizable and subversively fantastical that lends his fictions such emotional authenticity. What the heart says, and the soul suspects, is more honest, more terrifying than logic! And logic itself is challenged in Wright's universe, most particularly in I Am the Bird, his latest assault against objective reality. In this newest novella Wright crafts a world of shadow and substance, waking dream and sleeping reality, asking us to question which is which before finally asking us ... does it matter? Does it truly matter in an existence where being dead or living are simply different sides of the same malignant phenomena?

The characters in this refutation of commonly accepted reality -- ghosts of mind and consciousness as well as the supernatural -- are no different than your neighbors. No different than the face you peer at in the mirror. The real source of haunting in this attempt of a man to understand a world of nightmares is the continual suggestion that there is no one objective way to understand anything. Wright's characters and sense of the uncanny open up for our reflection shadowlands between the expected and the unknown, objective reality and the subjective perception which defines the wider mysterious world around us, our possible place within it. Perhaps the truest ghosts in this brazenly original novella are our very own memories and faulty perceptions. Repressed desires, past traumas, and, most frightening, the very act of living is the 'Haunted House' that this philosophically intense manifesto walks us through. A teller of ghost stories where human beings are often more frightening than specters (assuming there IS a difference), Wright creates in this scathingly emotional, intellectual freeze-frame of suspended logic and time yet another of his trademark unconventional supernatural stories where the supernatural element and commonly defined reality are blended into one another.

In a plot that often denies the very rationale/purpose of the aesthetic tool, Max Gorshen, a writer lives in a perpetually dark, sweltering apartment in a smallish North American city that is never named (lending further ambiguity and a sense of uncertainty) with ... Someone. Maybe ... He refers to this roommate as "the other (man)," who, lives in the hallway. Never encountering one another in the apartment itself, Max does spot him interacting with neighbors on the street while he works on a novella. Both Max and the enigmatic, wraith-like stranger live with "Langley," a mouthy African parrot. From the shifting perceptional devices of Max, the shadow character, and Langley we are teased with the presence of still something else, a presence ominous and vile, whose malignance and primal mystery serves as the story's principal source of dread.

The terror summoned by the Wright's lyrical word-play in I Am The Bird, and in such themes as heartbreak and the questionable nature of reality, are both exhilarating and horrible precisely because Wright's understanding of human nature and his compassion for his fellow Outsiders bleeds from behind the words. We're in the dark, he seems to whisper, and life is a confusing maelstrom, but, for just a little while, I am here to hold your hand. The nature of existence is not only questioned in this modern, scathing condemnation of culture, it is wormy in its heart. Yet even in the midst of emotional filth and desperation Wright can find a smattering of hope.

Long recognized as a bold experimentalist in structure and narrative style, original in his choice of subjective supernaturalism and his dream-like voice, Wright's narrative structure is a refutation of traditional story logic, paralleling the disturbing uncertainty of the themes. Characters struggle to survive in an illusory, un-fulfilling, repetitive cycle of blindness, dissatisfaction, and waste in a scenario far more frightening than the chain-rattling of simple sectors. The purposefully convoluted, dizzying physical structure mirrors the thematic integrity of his decidedly serious, emotionally draining subtexts.

An economically written and deeply felt nightmare of atmospheric subtlety and stark spiritual horror, suggesting a refined sense of occult powers and supernatural mysteries lurking at the very edges -- or, more often, within -- the fabric of "reality," I Am The Bird exposes borderland moments in the lives of characters who through their own folly or, worse, through no fault of their own, discover that preconceived notions of existence are a surface illusion, and that the truth, whatever that mystifying presence may indeed be, is a thin onion peel away from the woken mind. Moments of intellect or emotional overflow, those times when the supernatural is encountered, provoke awe and invite a new sensitivity to the sublime possibilities anchored in the everyday. Max Gorshen, the main character (if he can truly be called that, as his identity/POV is constantly challenged), is in a limbo of self doubt and confusion that defies logic. He may be a parrot who is a writer or a writer dreaming to be a parrot, dead or alive, fictional construct or the flimsiest of dreams ... The protagonist's shifting POV is itself the key, if any exists, to understanding this hallucinatory celebration of chaos. I Am The Bird is a challenging, confusing book that makes no apologies for playing with conventions of literature and our own abilities to interpret it.

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