Gregg Sapp's Reviews > Timing the Infinite

Timing the Infinite by Nathaniel Schmeling
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Early in Nathaniel Schmeling’s trippy novel, “Timing the infinite,” the main character, Stranger, explains “intelligence tests place me in the top .01% and the supplemental psychiatric tests indicated a 94% chance of sociopathy.” He possesses an insatiable mind capable of processing vast amounts of information, but his innate sociopathy manifests in an inability to focus or establish healthy relationships, and tendencies toward self-destruction. Furthermore, he is mixed race, drug-addled, unsure of is his place in the world, and hopelessly in love.

Stranger is a college student who keeps company with equally neurotic peers and hedonistic frat boys. Reinforced by a cafeteria menu of booze and mind-altering substances, Stranger creates exquisitely complex yet utterly inscrutable rationalizations for just about everything. As in a morality play, Stranger’s colleagues are given names like Jester, Manic, Variable, etc. They spend almost all their time getting wasted and discoursing endlessly on sex, drugs, art, philosophy, politics, popular cultural, and more sex. The one thing they never seem to do is study.

Gunny is the object of Stanger’s passion. She, too, is psychologically damaged — for example, she cuts herself — which largely accounts for the attraction. Gunny is his “fantastic fantasy,” and he is smitten “Not at her form but her internal figure.” Unlike the libertine Stranger, Gunny does not drink and remains faithful to her boyfriend. Their platonic distance agonizes Stranger, but also frees him to be totally candid. “There are two kinds of people, my dear,” he tells her, “hopeless romantics and hopeful romantics.”

Schmeling employs a clever technique to craft a narrative reflecting Stranger’s mind space. Actions and events occur in the third person, present tense, which is interrupted repeatedly by Stranger’s erratic thoughts, conveyed in a first person stream of consciousness. Stranger’s physical reality and his mental world seldom interact. Fleeting moments sometimes give rise to meandering ruminations which span multiple topics, sometimes lasting for several pages.

There is no plot to speak of. The flow is driven by rapid dialog and circuitous albeit often insightful musings. Beyond the final chapter there is an “opuscule companion piece” with ten more chapters of breathless, continuous harangue. They hit the reader like a firehose in the face, and while there are some marvelous passages, the ultimate effect is that they pile self-indulgence upon incomprehensibility.

“Timing the Infinite” establishes Schmeling as a writer to watch, whose virtuosity with the language would benefit from a modicum of restraint.

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Reading Progress

May 1, 2020 – Started Reading
May 10, 2020 – Shelved
May 10, 2020 – Finished Reading

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