About a third of the way through reading Stacey Levine’s new novel, Frances Johnson, I commented to a friend that, unlike so many American fictions which seem to plow through plot and character like a thresher moving down rows of corn (if rows might be understood as chapters), this was a wonderfully lazy narrative, a story that seemed to have no particular place to go and all the time in the world to take you there.
“Frances, you recently told me you had several
dreams about chopped onions,” and Frances nodded
rhythmically, smiling happily as the two women
found the thread of a familiar, meandering dialogue
that proceeded in the halting yet serene manner of a
snail crossing a road over hours, unaware of time; and
forgetting the time indeed, not interested in turning
back, the friends talked, less in a conversation with
a point than in a kind of unstoppable practice that
neither woman wished to end.
Faced with such a linguistic construction it would be almost pointless to describe the fiction’s “plot.” The story —for those who must have one —is about a few days in Frances’ life in which she suddenly takes stock of herself and feels drawn to make decisions about her life: should she leave the small and grungy town of Munson and enter the world; should she abandon her sexless relationship with Ray Mars, who the rest of the townspeople, including Ray’s brother Kenny, feel is not good enough for Frances; should she attend the annual town dance and be swept away
in the arms of the new town doctor Mark Carol?
Los Angeles, October 25, 2005
Reprinted from The New Review of Literature, Vol. 3, no. 2 (April 2006).
Reprinted in Douglas Messerli, My Year 2005: Terrifying Times (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2006).