I just read Fra Keeler by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, a short novel I’m planning on teaching in my upper division Contemporary Forms class this fall, a lit class for creative writers that investigates notions of “the contemporary.” I’m still figuring out the thrust of the class, though I know we’ll be using Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge as a way into the novels and poetry collections we’ll be reading throughout the semester.
I’m not alone in comparing Oloomi to Robbe-Grillet, but I’m struck by how (as in Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy) Oloomi leaves so much out of the novel–motivation, for example, and back story, and how what’s absent doesn’t prevent the narrator’s manic, paranoid investigation into the death of Fra Keeler to not only move forward, but to spiral and plummet. Despite what’s missing, the novel (at around 120 pages) still feels at once immediate and energetic while at the same time heavy and fraught. Fra Keeler is a detective novel where it seems that we only know half of the story, that what we’re left with–the narrator’s obsessive investigation (in the strangest sense of the word)–is all the narrator’s left with, too.
Here’s a great passage:
“My mind was as vast and infinite as the sky above, as though the sky had doubled itself inside my head. We are what we see, surely, I thought, that must be the case. Because now that I see the sky, I thought, my mind is another sky alongside it.” (pg. 79)
So much of the novel is concerned with what the narrator perceives, what he sees, and how he connects (or doesn’t connect those things) and the madness of signs. That’s probably where we’ll start our discussion this fall. A great, unexpected novel.
Here are a few more in-depth reviews of Fra Keeler: