Alexander Chee does what seems impossible.
How do you put music into words? He does it, evoking the sensation of singing. In this case, singing a solo for the choir director who is a molester:
Right inside my chest a space open. He brings to his mouth a mouth harp, and he whistle a tone for me to being on. The tone opens in my chest, rolls over in language, opens my mouth. All along, I thought I was the one singing. I am not. He sings through me. He opens his mouth and I sing. My mouth is his.
Full Fathom Five my father lies...
At the entrance of the choir, as they surround me, I feel myself return. For the moment I was alone, I was gone. I vanished. I kept singing, though, for here I am, a song again.
He conveys infatuation and falling in love in ways I've never read before. Here, the narrator talks about his closest childhood friend:
He walks and I feel the air come off him toward me, wherever we are. His sounds reach me where I am, not the only sounds I can hear, but the first ones: they trample all the others....What do you want of him, I ask myself. I tell myself, to walk inside him and never leave. For him to be the house of me.
Chee's novel reads like a poem. His novel reads like myth.
We no longer live in villages where everyone shares the same culture. So where can our myths come from? Irrational though the content may be, they seem to be essential to our spirit. Chee refers to Greek myth and Korean folktale and science--which may be one of our contemporary myths to explain origins, but he goes further. He creates what I call a psychic landscape. (Something Amy Hempel also does so well in her story "Tom-Rock through the Eels" from At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom.) He doesn't use symbols. There's no Two=2 or Red Rose=Love. Nothing you can directly substitute for meaning. Instead, he creates a web of associations, constellations of meaning. Stars, sky, birds, foxes, tunnels, water, roses and more--these recur and shift shapes throughout the narrative. I think this is how contemporary artists re-create the mythical consciousness that we no longer have to ground us in the universe.
This is a disturbing book and an extraordinarily beautiful one.