A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have
By J.A. Tyler
Reviewed by Nick Francis Potter
Lately I'm looking for music or sound in books. Not solely in terms of sentence-level alliteration, lyric meter, or onomatopoeia—though these elements certainly enter into it at some level—but more in the way that a book, as a whole, coheres; what it does to make noise and how that noise is shaped. The resonance of a book, as it were. This for me has as much or more to do with the visual contours of the text on the page—the bulk and length of paragraphs, the amount of page given to the margins, the white space between letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs, the sequencing and textual fluctuations that reoccur and distinguish given portions of text, the singularity or plurality of voices and how they are mixed, the focus, length and arrangement of plotable happenings, the coherence of the prose—as it does the sound of the language.
The music, or sound, or noise of a book, its audible shape as a whole, represents the conglomerate effect of its various parts grinding together and the hum that that action produces. And I feel like, largely, this is often an afterthought; few books (fiction in particular) consider this type of interaction in their inception and, as a result, few create any type of substantial or consequential or satisfactory noise.
J. A. Tyler on the other hand, seems deeply invested in writing books with a distinctly sonorous quality. The orchestrations of A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed feel as glassy as its protagonist, with both squalorous wine glass pitches and beautiful granular drones divided into seven movements.
Tyler's book, published through Fugue State Press (who have a stable of polyphonically resonant books), is an object well worth dissection. The tones it harbors are, like any instrument, based on its dimensions. A slim title of minimalist design, A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed is built, like all books, of words and the snow of empty paper. Even the cover graphic is built of text (though, in gradations of orange on white: "of wood/ of frost/ of velvet/ of smoke/ of brevity/ of cardboard/ of glass/ of beads/ of wires/ of fireflies"), indicating that its text is not only important as the impetus for imagining, but that the text itself, the typography, is of visual importance.
The book—its physical object—feels of a singular noise. The interior pages, the text on those pages, belong within a frame of 5" x 7", belong within (and interact with) the cover. It is a singular unit of sound, humming.
That Tyler would author such a book isn't surprising. As founding editor of Mud Luscious Press, he has been at the forefront of a movement in publishing books of all sizes and timbres, both tonal and atonal. A movement of small press books that takes seriously the charge to make a literary instrument out of a text. And it seems that of this size, a notably smaller size, there is a great space for singularity of purpose, of significant, reverberating sound.
The overlapping flow of Tyler's language within the pages of A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed is well informed by the book's design. It seems to inform the story itself, bleeding in and out of moments of impending collapse and despair: the destiny of a corrupted relationship, a muddled story of failure. As on the cover, Tyler's writing rambles forward in fluid repetitions, listings, and disjointed, hallucinogenic moments of bleary memory. The unnamed protagonist remembers his "her" in a punctuationless flow, as if all items of description melt into one: "The shaving her legs the making of toast and bringing of a coffee cup to her lips the blowing so that the wind is coming and she is tired and then she is locking the door…" These moments are contrasted, directly in this instance, with similarly listed descriptions, obviously separate by nature of their presentation within commas and periods: "A grasshopper cling to a brick wall, a roll of toilet paper brought spinning to the floor, all the screaming. A tie on his neck. A collared shirt." A distinction between presence and memory.
A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed is a feverish text, a book that washes over you, a book whose prose, like poetry, leaves you not necessarily with a concrete story, per se, but a definite noise, like a field of cicadas, ringing in your ears. As in this instance where poetry and prose combine, Tyler's text formatted large enough for single syllables to fill the page before gliding into a more standardly formatted paragraph:
flying. A man of flies. A man of fire. A man of fire and flies and flying and the burn. A man on fire. A man in the depths. A man in the middle. A man on the periphery. A man is a man is a man. A man is a man is a man.
For bibliophiles, there is something wonderful about a unique, clean, beautifully shaped book, as A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed is, but there is also the worry, I think, of the value of a text that takes up so little room on a given bookshelf, virtually lost once handled into it's slatted home. I think, artistically, its easy to dismiss this argument, to say that size/length/word count is irrelevant in terms of value (nominal and intellectual, both). Still, I feel like somewhere, perhaps at some subconscious level, there is some apprehension (and maybe it's solely my own). But with Tyler, with A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed, the value of noise well executed, of a pristine and uniquely resonant book, a book that, once read, sings from the shelf, is of considerable value indeed. And I, after reading it, am apt to listen closely for any and everything eking out from the J.A. Tyler camp in the near future.