Sound, By TM Wolf
Experimental fiction gets into the groove
Sunday 17 June 2012
Reading an experimental novel is a gamble. Will struggling with the complexities of an avant-garde presentation pay off? Fortunately, in the case of Sound the answer is firmly in the affirmative. Nonetheless, initially at least, it does look like hard going. Wolf's conceit is to present us with a text that draws on the properties of a vinyl LP. Accordingly, page layouts and their contents reference sides, tracks and lyrics.
But that is not all. The dialogue is set out on ruled lines, in a fashion that refers to sheet music as well as vinyl grooves. Variations in fonts, meanwhile, denote speech from different characters. Now and then, the visual impact of blocks of text of differing shapes and sizes nudges Sound towards being a graphic novel, but mostly Wolf's approach is resolutely textual. His prose deploys extensive onomatopoeia to evoke settings such as amusement arcades and seedy bars. Where there is background music in particular scenes, he directly interpolates its lyrics. And at intervals there are repetitions of his narrator's key memories, making them into rhythmic refrains.
Fortunately, the typographic trickery is easier to master than it might appear and Wolf's formal inventiveness offers a beguiling, multi-layered narrative. His aural simulacra immerse us in his New Jersey setting while he tells a story which remains intriguing throughout. Sound takes place in a holiday resort blighted by not-so-genteel decay. The narrator, music-obsessive Cincy Stiles, grew up here. He's dropped out of his postgrad philosophy studies to return and work in a boatyard over the summer.
His colleagues are an odd bunch: they include a massive Afro-Caribbean man, Tone, who is a genius with engines; identical albino twins Oz and Deuce, who shun daylight; the pot-head Mike and the enigmatic, be-shaded Corey. After-hours, Cincy explores the town's dives and dereliction, and soon he is pursuing romance with an elusive local girl, Vera, in between wondering whether undercover cops have his workplace under observation – and, if so, what they are after.
Along the way, Cincy's thoughts often take a nostalgic turn, to which Sound's musical strata lend themselves with wistful effectiveness. Wolf is mining a fine tradition. The most illustrious literary experiment with music is the Sirens chapter in Ulysses. Wolf widens this modernist niche with gusto and the result is a novel that can truly be described as pitch perfect.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Student jailed for hacking University of Birmingham computers to improve his grades
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
MasterChef 2015: Simon Wood named winner
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Sherlock series 4: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have to be 'persuaded' to return, says Steven Moffat
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove