Jason Pettus's Reviews > There Is No Year

There Is No Year by Blake Butler
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's review
Nov 15, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary, dark, weird, hipster, smart-nerdy, subversive
Read in November, 2011

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

So perhaps it was the microscopically small expectations I had going into Blake Butler's admired yet reviled full-length literary debut There Is No Year that made me enjoy it a lot more than I had been expecting; after all, this experimental haunted-house story and Grand Future Of The American Contemporary Novel has been trashed by readers and critics much more than it's been praised, and I also have to confess that I'm not much of a fan of Butler's popular litblog "HTMLGiant," which I find just much too pretentious for my personal taste. But it turns out that Year is a much different thing than I had been led to believe, and something that regular readers of this blog will be instantly familiar with; basically, it's the most high-profile bizarro novel in history, and if Blake hadn't taken the time to cultivate the New York MFA industry crowd before writing it, it would've come out with a cheesy Photoshopped cover on Eraserhead Press just like all the other bizarro novels I've been reading in the last few years, and it would've had its 75 readers or whatever and Butler would right now be out on the road with Patrick Wensink and Amber Dawn and Eric Henderixson and Ian Woodhead, scraping and hustling for a living, instead of being the star author of the newly artsy-fied Harper Perennial and being feted by the New York Times and all the other wonderful things that have been happening to him lately.*

And so in a way, this makes this the greatest thing to ever happen to the bizarro genre (or "gonzo," or "The New Weird," or whatever term you want to use), because it's like a giant booster shot of validity to all the books that fit within it; and now when these authors are sending out emails and trying to book appearances with all these McSweeney's-loving lit hosts across the country, when describing their books all they have to say now is, "…You know, it's like Blake Butler," and the hosts will say, "Oh, Blake Butler, well, then, come on by!" But that said, let me also confess that I only ended up reading about half of this before putting it away for good; because much like the superior House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski that Butler liberally steals from honors in pastiche style**, no matter how intriguing this kind of writing is, a little goes a long way with most readers, and while I found 200 pages of this to be almost perfect, the 450 pages of its actual length turned out to be way too much. But the good news is that it's easy to read just half of this book and still be highly satisfied with it, because for those who still don't know, there is no real plot to speak of, the aspect that has inspired most of its criticism; it's instead an unending series of exquisitely beautiful prose-poem micro-stories, something like 300 of them that are each only a page or two long, which much like Nathaniel Hawthorne at his best are much better at establishing a creepy, unsettling mood than in conveying an actual three-act plot. A long as you keep all these things in mind, there shouldn't be any reason that a genre enthusiast wouldn't really love There Is No Year for what it is, instead of despising it for what it isn't, and it comes recommended in that specific spirit.

Out of 10: 8.2 (but only if you read just the first half), or 9.7 for bizarro fans

*And I want to make it particularly clear today that I do think that all of Butler's recent successes are wonderful, no matter what I thought of the book in particular; although he and I have never met, we have a ton of mutual friends, and according to them he is apparently a quite gregarious and hardworking fellow who deserves all the successes he's recently been having. I guess I feel the need to specifically mention this today in particular because, after reading up on other online reviews of this book in preparation for my own, I was really dismayed to see just how many of them are in reality these thinly-veiled screeds of naked personal jealousy from other wannabe intellectuals, hundreds of them all along the lines of, "Wish I could string together 450 pages of nonsensical sentences and be called The Future Of The American Contemporary Novel." No matter what the quality of any particular work, I always think it's a shame whenever an author has to deal with a deluge of petty jealousy from the public masked as analytical criticism, simply because he's found success where others haven't; and so I just want to make sure that people don't lump my own criticisms in with the rest of the haters today, even though like them I found this novel only so-so in general.

**And well, okay, technically you could argue that both books actually rip off Steven Spielberg's Poltergeist in the scenes where they overlap; but that's a snotty cocktail-party discussion for another day.
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