Psychological Examinations for the Existentialists

Isaac Dwyer peers around Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi's Fra Keeler, and finds a whole lot of neuroses, pomegranates, and manila folders.

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi. Fra Keeler. St. Louis, MO. 2012. 128 Pages. $16. ISBN 978-0-984463-4-5

To be weird. To be confused. To drown in the dreamy, the disconnect, the anxiety. To be caught. To be introverted and obsessive, compulsive and circulatory, rambling, dark. These are the tools of this era’s writer, these are the goals, the endgames, the means, the powerhouse for all hyper-microscopic  psychological examinations. Post-modernism, existentialism, what have you: this is how today’s writer can get into your skull, dig around for a few hours, and either turn you into something new or atomize your entire existence.

This is where you will find Fra Keeler.

A man moves into a house previously inhabited by the mysterious Fra Keeler, and begins to investigate the circumstances of his death, for no other reason asides from the fact that our narrator happened to have purchased Keeler’s house. In the process, he gets so wrapped up in his own mind and pseudo-surrealist rants that it becomes a dialogue of OCD introspection coupled with pleasant, though wasted, uses of delightfully musical words such as “humdrum.”

The best way to describe the narrator is neurotic. A passage:

“When I bent down to stack the papers, I thought the sensation I had had in my brain earlier was the same sensation I had once felt when I shook a pomegranate near my ear […] it had made the same sound as the sound my blood made when it swiveled in my brain, and that both sounds led to the same sensation of having something dissolved where it shouldn’t have[…]”.

Such an examination has its place, for sure, and certainly there is a style of writing that employs sections well. One example of this is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory, where the narrator takes extreme care in describing the object that is the namesake of the book – a device that sends wasps spiraling to their deaths, varying from drowning in urine to combustion. But, alas, this is not the case for Fra Keeler, for, to put it simply, the subject matter just isn’t wacky enough. The neuroses comes in empty-handed and aimless, like the babblings a schizophrenic makes to a lamp post about what she had for breakfast. Being disoriented can only carry a plot (or the reader’s interest) so far.

In Fra Keeler, Van Der Vliet Oloomi also has the tendency to brush by subjects of intrigue, such as the nature of death and its importance to the human condition, with blasé importance but no indulgence. The voice carries with it the alienated observations of Camus’s Mersault in The Stranger, saying things such as “The phone rang persistently. I let it ring a few times. Imagine, I thought, the possibilities on the other end.” – but, much to its detriment, masks all potential importance with mindlessness. All potential whimsy is dry and falls flat, like the icing on a grocery store cupcake: “What madness is this, I thought, when I awoke in the midst of the woods. Not the woods per se, but the trees at the far end of the garden. Everything looks larger when you are looking at it from the bottom up.”

Although it toes the pleasant border between enchantment and post-modernism, a spot that allows for mind-blowing observations and emotional investigations, Fra Keeler is unable to do either, because it refuses to touch down to focused human sensitivity. Van Der Vliet Oloomi, however, appears to possess the skill necessary for deep introspection. Perhaps, a future novel is to be looked forward to.

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Isaac Dwyer has a background in theatrical performance, and finds himself rather enamored by dead things and mind control.