Renee Gladman’s Morelia is a novella about the sentence. Well, no. Not really. But it seems that way because reading it is an exercise in looking at the sentence for its own sake, irrespective of what came before it, or of what might follow it.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a narrative, but only that that narrative is first subject to the sentence as an object, presumably of beauty, of art.
To achieve this, to make us look, touch, smell, and consider the sentence, the thread of the story—in this case, a mystery—is fragmented, purposely disjointed at times as the author attempts to recreate with word combinations, the fuzzy, often urgent, ways in which a lost, confounded, confused person might try to piece together the clues to answer a vital question. The facts to justify a feeling. The declarations with which we create reality. The sentences with which all things begin, including the story at the heart of Morelia:
“The sentence wasn’t English but it was language nonetheless. It used the Roman alphabet; it employed blank space to separate letters into various groups; and, most convincingly, the length of it ended with a period, that dot, that fleck of dust that ruins conversations.”
If you are a lover of reading, you know that is an exquisite sentence, with every dot and mark positioned in the very best possible place for the purpose of creating understanding and meaning, but also beauty for the eye, the ear, the heart.
But is there a story? You know, beginning, middle and end? The answer is yes. Morelia is the story of a dream. The woman who found that non-English sentence, has found it written on a piece of paper tucked inside a book. The sentence doesn’t fit and, somehow, this disturbs her. She must find out the unsettling things it may be forecasting for her, and she is right about this because as soon as she feels the need to know, the world of the sentence invades her life, chasing, interrogating, watching. The novella then becomes a modern thriller with urban textures and the woman its very active heroine.
“The strip of paper tucked inside the book I’m holding bore a declarative, which I couldn’t read. I woke early this morning because I’d heard the door pull shut. It was an intruder. He should have left it open. The closing of the door concluded a dream I was having, the question of the dream: should I shoot this person? Yet the declarative was written in vain, or was delivered to the wrong person, or—in keeping with the novels of Lisa Polak—was in reference to my dream, the very same dream in which I murdered a man in sunglasses.”
Whoa. Now you might ask, even with a story, is it going to shift like that, this way and that, throughout? What you are really asking is if it will arrive anywhere. The answer, again, is yes, it will. But not in the way you may be used to. Not all the questions are answered.
You are not in control.
You are at the mercy of the sentence.
You are the guest of beauty.
And so you might consider enjoying the pursuit of significance and the hypnotic magnificence of the imagery and the word constructs brought in to make the ride real. Treat yourself. Remember it is a very short novella and you can afford to let go, if only for a little while, as Renee Gladman herself suggests in what may be one of the more literal clues in the book:
“You go, but going is like staying where you are, just with your eyes facing downward and your body still. I went. I came back. It was reading. Yet it wasn’t so much reading that I wanted to do. Or reading first, then something further, like walking. Could syntax become a city? It could, but I’d have to forget myself.”