Sunday, May 1, 2011

"This austere skepticism is not so much balanced as complicated by a giddy submission to the mystical."

. . . A true, perfect history of mankind lies elsewhere, inaccessible to man as long as he is led along by his corrupt eyes, touch, hearing, taste, and sense of smell, but perceptible perhaps to the undisturbed motion of the soul. ("Tenebrian Chronicles")

- Not so outré as all that. Didn't Plato say as much? And what of sensible John Locke? Surely it is naïve to believe that the senses are reliable interpreters of all reality. The senses don't see gravity, or electricity or intelligence, and yet we believe these things exist. ("The Parlour Game")

Paul Glennon is a Canadian author who works in the software industry. He is currently writing a trilogy for children called Bookweirder about a young boy who enters the world of books and has to piece plots back together.

According to Glennon's Afterward, the idea for The Dodecahedron, or A Frame for Frames grew from his thoughts about the "geometry of short story collections." In most cases, he observed, the stories follow a continuity similar to that of the novel, progressing through a series of developments until a resolution in the final story. Instead of this "cyclical" geometry, Glennon wanted to produce a unified collection where each story could nevertheless stand on its own and linear order was irrelevant. He also looked to the Oulipo principles that guided another one of our reads, Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, and set A Frame for Frames within certain constraints based on the geometry of the twelve-sided dodecahedron. Each of the twelve stories represents one of the dodecahedron's faces, which are pentagonal. These five sides in turn stand for the relationships between the stories: each one must refer to or be referred to by each of the five stories adjacent to it. And so the book's shifting perspectives and all-out Mind Screw were born.

A Frame for Frames is difficult to describe without spoilers. Common themes include an ancient Vatican conspiracy to hide the New World, messages in bottles, the Arctic, the production of fiction by machines or artificial intelligence, the philosophical notion of transcendent paragons (or "types"), and variations on the tale of Scheherazade. Several genres are present in addition to the standard short story, including fantasy, memoir, the children's story, the magazine article, academic paper, adventure fiction, and what seems to be the opening chapter to a novel. Regardless of the order in which you read, the collection as a whole unfolds like endlessly deconstructing origami. The stories both contradict and reinforce one another in a disorienting flux that leaves reality itself in doubt with the faint image of the underlying dodecahedron as the only point of stability. In the self-contained universe of the The Dodecahedron, it is the symbol of ultimate reality - that spiritual truth glimpsed at by monks in the prolonged Arctic night or a casual conversation about said monks at a modern cocktail party. But wait - are the Tenebrian manuscripts just a hoax???

The Dodecahedron, or A Frame for Frames is a constant surprise and one of the most marvelous books we've ever read. The stories themselves are individually gripping in their own ways and the concepts they introduce are delicious food for thought. I would like to thank Sarah for choosing this one and look forward to the responses of the other Wolves.

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Paul Glennon's The Dodecahedron, or A Frame for Frames was The Wolves' reading selection for April. Please feel free to join us for the rest! You can find the complete book list here.


Emily said...

I agree, this was great fun. I didn't find all the stories individually gripping (I tended to like the ones toward the beginning better, particularly "The Plot to Hide America," "The American Shahrazad" and "The Tenebrian Chronicles"), but I was certainly gripped by the "find-the-connections" game. And liked Glennon's ability to bring things into ambiguity and leave them there, so that no one "real" truth emerges.

Anonymous said...

Some of the stories were really fun all by themselves, and I liked how at times it felt like you'd been given a clue that made another story make more sense, and then almost immediately another detail came to light that threw all of your conjecture to the wind. I had a very good time with this one - glad you did too.

E. L. Fay said...

Emily: Yes, that's why I've always liked unreliable narrators too. I appreciate some resolution but I like to keep thinking after the story's done.

Sarah: It was constantly surprising, wasn't it?

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