Sometimes you find a story that’s more than a story, and other times you read a book that’s only a collection of words. Sometimes you get a glimpse into someone else’s life and other times you take a step back and look at your own. Sometimes you learn something profound and other times simplicity confounds you. Sometimes you enjoy the journey and other times you only see the destination. Sometimes you read a book like “Austin Nights” by herocious.
“Austin Nights” is a book that defies easy description, but delivers a potent impact to the self aware reader. It tells the story of Michael and Bridget, a couple moving from Miami to Austin, TX, within the construct of a series of journal entries. The chapters have been shuffled together in seemingly random order, jumping back in forth in time and location, leaving you with an experience akin to tuning an old dial radio through someone’s mind; sliding from station to station, moment to moment, memory to memory – impossible to hear an entire song, but inescapable in it’s mood and atmosphere.
I would love to tell you what the story was about, but I’m not sure I can. There were crazed library patrons, cross country road trips, mentally unstable neighbors, and a gravely ill feline. Yet wrapped around each of those were moments of intense introspection, profound insight, and breathtaking clarity. As Michael and Bridget both share their thoughts with the reader, you are taken on a journey with no clear beginning or end. Michael puts it best and most honestly in the book:
As you already know, I’m not in the throes of contriving a story. What you’re reading is trying to stay formless and free, without limitations and plot. This means the occasional digression.
That absence of obvious plot and the non-linear narrative represent both the strength and weakness of “Austin Nights”. At first I was left vaguely unsatisfied and slightly intimidated when the book was finished. Was I too dense to grasp the greater cosmic meaning of the story? Had I failed to make a crucial connection with Michael and Bridget? Did I really understand what was happening?
Then I realized; these were exactly the feelings I was meant to feel. This was a window into two people’s lives – real and messy and beautiful and nonsensical and blurry. It wasn’t meant to be understood as much as it was meant to be experienced. These disjointed memories were not a destination, but a journey – fragments of a larger story, but not the story itself.
So where did all that leave me with “Austin Nights”? I think it’s best described through the lens of Michael’s own words:
It’s kind of how I feel after I walk out of a good movie. Every really good movie makes me feel the same way. Somewhere near the beginning, I want to stand up and leave and create a piece of art. I feel like I can do it, all I have to do is start writing.
But, invariably, I stay and watch the entire movie because it is a really good movie. I stay in my seat and keep my eyes focused and follow the dialogue all the way till the end. Then, I walk out and feel totally happy. The inexorable itch to create isn’t there anymore. In its place there’s a complacent man: comfortably stifled and eager to relate what I just watched rather than create something of my own.
To me, that’s the message and the experience of reading “Austin Nights”. The story that Michael and Bridget shared was not written to leave me with a nice, neat, relatable experience. It wasn’t predictable. It didn’t give me all of the answers. It didn’t leave me feeling totally happy and complacent – and that’s okay. What it did was make me want to sit down and write something. For that, Herocius, I thank you.
My favorite words from “Austin Nights”:
Memories are like that: you’ll be living in the moment and all of a sudden you’re in the past, in a place that’s almost completely lost. I love memories. I love remembering what I’ve seen and lived through. Remembering is more than an act of kindness. It’s an act of engendering.
I imagine that if I write enough of this memory down, a plot will emerge despite my freewheeling approach. That’s what herded words tend toward. There’s an irony in the idea that writing freely, writing whatever comes to mind in discursive orts, will eventually lead to a set of parameters that I have to work within. It’s almost as if freedom, when stretched to infinity, is actually a disguised form of constraint.
If your pictures aren’t coming out how you want them to – get closer.
*A copy of this book was provided to thewordzombie.com by the author for the purpose of this review
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