The Pitch

by Richard Truhlar,
ISBN: 092054486X

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Fact Similes
by Eileen Manion

RICHARD TRUHLAR writes unsettling prose. Everything in these pieces moves around with manic intensity: characters dissolve into one another; grotesque fantasies interrupt quotidian anxieties; time expands and contracts. The stories seem composed like pieces of music, with repetitions, variations on themes, but without conventional plots or narrative lines. It comes as no surprise that Truhlar, in addition to being a writer, is a "text/sound/music composer" who has been involved in publishing sound poetry and electro-acoustic music.

Within the stories in The Pitch, there's nothing solid, nothing reliable, not even the ground, which in "Earfull" appears to "swell up like an ocean wave throwing itself forward and then sink back again into a flat piece of lawn." The protagonist had left the city to get away from "the combustible faceless people who jostle him wherever he's trying to make an entrance or an exit," but in the smalltown backyard where he tries to relax, he hears strange sounds and imagines the ground "could erupt and grab his face, stick onto his face like a parasite and begin sucking at his eyes." Somehow it doesn't help to be told on the last page of the volume that a sudden infestation of worms was seemingly responsible for this horrific vision; the terrifying image remains in the reader's mind.

If nature is alien, technology provides no help, for it seems to undermine any possible continuity of personality: "Every day, a part of yourself becomes incomprehensible, a sudden straining away from the perpetual motion of biography." So begins 'Tact Simile," a story in which a female protagonist merges with her computer while keying in the startling phrase "SEND OUT PEOPLE TO GET SMASHED." At the end of the story, this ambiguous injunction applies to her, referring to a real or imaginary car accident that, it seems, crippled and blinded her when she was a child.

Truhlar probes further into the meaning of medical technology and the nature of subjectivity in a wonderful story, "The Assirmilator." Here a surgeon undergoes an organ transplant operation, and then has to come to terms with the Other inside: "Who was the other? the other's part planted in you to continue yesterday and tomorrow, another's time, another's place ... did it laugh, did it cry, had it been caressed with good-night kisses?"

In the title story, "The Pitch," Truhlar takes his character, a man on a business trip, beyond the painful mental states we are familiar with - "a normal disorientation, sense of isolation" - to an even more radical sense of disconnection, a feeling that "this body below you, [is] somehow not connected to the feet firmly planted on bathroom tiles." Not even the "ambient hum of unseen technology behind the walls or in the ceiling" can distract from "the silence you feel within yourself."

If character is so shaky, the line between fantasy and everyday reality often breaks down in Truhlar's stories. In "The Better Way" (official slogan of the Toronto Transit Commission), the nameless male protagonist imagines or sees, we're never sure, a seven-year-old boy fall onto the subway tracks. Or is he himself the seven-year-old falling onto the tracks? Reading these stories is like riding a pitching subway car; the reader tries to grab a word, an image, grasping for meaning, thinking "I've got it," and then the whole thing moves, and you pitch forward, con, founded, but compelled nonetheless by the words themselves, or by the determination to make sense out of fragments, as in the ironic "Phoning the Past":

When you picked up the phone, phoning the past, doomed by evanescence of another's voice, saying to you that it is dangerous to unmask images, when you picked up the phone you found yourself in a hyperspace without atmosphere, your voice floating apart from the necessity of speech, the necessity of words to resolve the story, set it right, make an ending happy.


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