What madness is this – Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler

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:

LA Times


The Millions

Buy Fra Keeler at the publisher’s website.

Buy it at Powell’s.

Buy it at Amazon.



Recently Read and Recommended

A few books I’ve recently read and would recommend to other readers:

From the Observatory by Julio Cortazar

Motes by Craig Dworkin

Unheard Music by Craig Dworkin (PDF)

Core Samples from the World by Forest Gander

Ambient Parking Lot by Pamela Lu

The Goodbye Town by Timothy O’Keefe

Looking Around by Witold Rybczynski

Makeshift Metropolis by Witold Rybczynski

Dust: The Archive and Cultural History by Carolyn Steadman

The Voice of the River by Melanie Rae Thon

Driven to Abstraction by Rosmarie Waldrop

The Fast by Hannah Weiner

A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf

Slow Man

“It is like a sea beating against his skull. Indeed, for all he knows he could already be lost overboard, tugged to and fro by the currents of the deep. The slap of water that will in time strip his bones of the last sliver of flesh. Pearls of his eyes; coral of his bones.”
— J.M. Coetzee, Slow Man

Summer Reading

“The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.”
–Virginia Woolf, “A Haunted House”

Summer Reading

“They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone.”
–James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”