by Weston Cutter
Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television is, above all else, a mastery of rhythm. Most times when we read books we’re not thinking of pages as being rhythmic, as carrying a time signature, yet there they are, sprawled out, numbered, and aside from Jenny Boully’s The Book of Beginnings and Endings and DFW’s Brief Interviews, I’ve never read a book which actually made use of the rhythm of pages (Boully’s because each odd-numbered-page [the ones on the right] were starts, and the even numbers [left] were the ends; Wallace’s Interviews is, as far as I know, the only book which has the evens and odds inverted, and I’m not sure what the intent was other than him starting the book with “A Radically Condensed History…” on page zero, but there [obviously] was method).
So what is this, One Hour of Television. It’s a waltz, essentially, though porous: there are three recognizable voices and, whiplashingly, they braid through the text. Are there three voices? There seem to be three voices, though I’d guess a good argument could be made for different ways to read these voices. For sure there’s a first-person narrator who, with his friend/enemy Jean-Phillipe, makes his way ultimately toward a gambling table, and whose relationship with Jean-Phillipe is the coaxing river of what-the-hell that keeps the boat up and drift. There are, along with this first-person’s voice (about whom the reader knows next to nothing—name, visage, tastes—other than he has a wife, though that relationship gets complicated because of/through Jean-Phillipe), two other voices, and though we know next to nothing about these two as well, what we do know is fascinating.
(This book, by the way, is maybe flash fiction, maybe poetry; I’m not sure. Each page features prose of varying lengths, the shortest entries featuring two words, the longest stretching somewhere not absurdly past 150 or so words. We’ll get to the writing and everything further down, but the magnificently fascinating and satisfying part of the book is, yes, certaintly, partly the writing involved, but the big oomph has to do with the ride of it, which has everything to do with narration, everything to do with the story’s rhythm. Know Brubeck’s “Take Five,” or, more recently, Radiohead’s “15 Step”? How both songs are almost mathematically addictive? How the songs beg enjoyment while also begging you to spend time/energy ‘solving’ for the rhythm, begging you to learn how to tap them out on your thighs sitting there on the couch or whatever? Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television asks a similar mathematical awareness.)
The other two voices are distinct, weirdly (weird because they’re both implacable, un-touchable). One voice is first person plural, and the ‘we’ involved seem fundamentally In Charge (of what? Of television? Of the election that’s ostensibly happening within this book [there are sections in this book: there's "The Campaign" for 40+ pages, then "One Hour of Tevision" for another 40+, then "Who Voted" for another 40+, and you see that? The triptych the text itself is structured according to? You think I'm kidding about this being a waltz [though when I say 'waltz' please in your own head hear 'fractured/scratched waltz, a waltz more scratched and darker than, say, even Tom Waits or any recognizable musician's idea: this is a waltz sung to tires from knives, hummed by every fingernail that doesn't but wishes to claw at something]). This ‘we’ says things like “On the one hand we can’t be attacked; on the other hand we try to order pizza and end up calling in a missle strike. We don’t even know where.” [p.61]. This ‘we’ seems fundamentally in-control and fundamentally unclear about what ‘control’ even means. Without sounding lame and airless, this ‘we’ has all sorts of power but is living someplace/some-moment in which ‘power’ as it’s understood doesn’t mean much, or at least not in any way to this ‘us’.
The third voice is harder to parse, and, honestly, I’m not sure about it (I’m sure about it as art, as it works in the book, but I’m not sure I’m ‘right’ in how I’ve understood it). It’s another ‘us’ but one more powerless, seemingly: this ‘we’ doesn’t call in accidental airstrikes; this one’s more put-upon, less acting-out. Does this make sense?
Here’s the thing: I’m not certain about One Hour of Television. He’s what I’m 100% sure about, though: It’s not necessary to be certain about One Hour of Television (to be certain about what it ‘means’ or, even, what it ‘means’; it’s a text which, in the best and most frustrating ways, does, and of course to handle a text that’s exclusively doing demands not reviews or anything else but reading the fucking thing). It’s a hard-edged book which asks sideways and gives oddly and I read it all in one sitting, flying from Omaha to Chicago, seat 20A, and I’m not a huge fan of flying and get occasionally white-knuckled at the turbulence and One Hour of Television both made the turbulence more and less. I can’t explain it, thank fuck, which, I suppose, is the whole point of reading to begin with. As in: go read.
(And it’d be dumb not to note: the book’s published by Year of the Liquidator, which is run by Shane Jones [Penguin version of Light Boxes hits in May, remember] and Blake Butler [Scortch Atlas is yours for the purchasing; two more coming from him in the upcoming-ish], and if for no other reason get excited that smart people still put their energy toward shit that blows up in non-destructive ways [I'm looking at you, bankers and warriors]).