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Evan Dara: The Lost Scrapbook

We understand only fragments of reality, and we can be sure that every interesting and significant theory is at best only partially true.

This quote from Chomsky – who is a character in the book – gives something of a clue to the nature of this book. The other clue is the fascinating aside on why Beethoven wrote so many variations of the music of other composers, for this work may be said to be a series of variations. What it is, is a series of primarily monologues by a variety of characters (it is often not possible to tell where one ends and another begins), sometimes spoken to others, sometimes in their head. What makes it work – though it isn’t easy – is that Dara’s voices, disembodied though they may be, clearly have something to say. Not only do they discourse on the full range of twentieth century culture – from Partch to Piaget to Popper as well as film, radio and TV – but they also represent the full range of twentieth century angst or, at least, the North American variety, whether it is sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock’n’roll or, of course, the old man is alone dilemma of all twentieth century artists.

Dara takes this theme of solitude versus community one step further when, at the end, while continuing the monologues, tells the story of Isaura, Missouri (as far as I can tell there is no such place, though there was, of course, such a place in a classical times, located in what is now Turkey, which was well and truly destroyed; it means soft air in Greek) and its effective destruction by the Ozark chemical company. Strange things are happening in Isaura, apparently connected with the water (people getting ill, a surfeit of deformed babies, etc.). The company and all of officialdom from the non-technical (such as the mayor) to the technical (the various health and environmental authorities) all deny a problem. They gradually admit that there might have been a small spill of methylene chloride. However, it is gradually revealed that there was a large spill of the highly toxic hexachlorocyclopentadiene and the town eventually has to be evacuated. The last word of the book is Silence, no full stop.

Publishing history

First published 1995 by Fiction Collective 2