Author and UNLV student Dylan Fisher will read from his new novella, The Loneliest Band in France (Texas Review Press, $19.95), and have a conversation with Believer deputy editor Niela Orr, on Saturday, 7p, at the Writer’s Block.
Some quick math: If you were to extract the first sentence of Dylan Fisher’s novella, The Loneliest Band in France, and lay it out in a line, it would measure, by our calculations, 407 feet, give or take a subordinate clause. That’s 57 feet longer than the Luxor is high. Wild.
The point, by the way, isn’t to reduce Fisher’s slim (70 pages) but complex book to a novelty: hoo-boy, these wacky long sentences! Just the opposite, in fact: The math is just my brain’s attempt to wrap its little brain arms around an aesthetic experience it expected to be utterly familiar — reading a book — but which was complexified by a way of writing that defied my conventional anticipations. To quantify that feeling, somehow. And, indeed, to celebrate Fisher’s nervy, audacious achievement.
Of course, there’s more to the book than just 37-page sentences. In Loneliest Band, Fisher, an MFA student in UNLV’s creative writing program, sets his protagonist, a Sri Lankan foreign-exchange student named Migara, physically and emotionally adrift in the French city of Montpellier. Haunted by the death of his mother, confused about how to handle his father’s request that he return to Sri Lanka, uncertain about where he belongs in the world, Migara somehow falls in with The Loneliest Band in France. They say they’ve composed a song that will actually kill those who hear it, and they’re looking for a guitarist. Migara doesn’t play guitar. They don’t care — he’s in. This happens early in the first sentence.
“With the character,” Fisher says of his sentence structure, as we sit in The writer's Block, “it wouldn’t make sense not to be written in this voice.” As he moves through the French city and through dozens of situations and encounters, there’s a kind of limbic overdrive to Migara’s consciousness that’s reflected in the headlong pace of the storytelling, in the wide gyres of detail accumulation, the gamut of emotions, the shifting time perspectives, the stray thoughts and observations teased out to improbable, often comic, degrees. “There’s a certain breathlessness that I was reaching for, this compulsion to keep talking to fill space.”
To keep rolling through the unending clauses — deftly paced by Fisher’s mad comma game — requires you, the reader, to be open to a certain amount of disorientation, to be comfortable with a lack of hard stops. Which was his intention. “I don’t want it to be something that’s easily digested,” he says. A bold choice in this era of screen-attenuated attention spans. (Author Pico Iyer once said he’s begun purposely lengthening his sentences to force readers to elongate their concentration.)
But once you sync to the book’s flow, it’s not difficult to follow. What you notice, in fact, is that Fisher’s way of writing opens up a lot of creative possibilities. The unorthodox structure primes you for an unorthodox narrative that tone-shifts between the dreamlike and the realistic, the deeply felt and the genuinely absurd. “When you don’t have a period,” Fisher says, “anything can happen!”
With all the inventiveness required by his style, it was fun to write, he says — a somewhat rare occurrence for a writer, and easy enough to imagine after spending a few pages with his splurges of detail and thought.
“To me, the most exciting books that I read are the ones where I can tell it was the product of love, and of fun, and of play,” he says. “That’s what I was hoping to do here.”