Title: There Is No Year
Author: Blake Butler
Synopsis (Courtesy of IndieBound):
“A family of three: father, mother, son.
A house that gives them shelter but shapes their nightmares.
An illness that nearly arrested the past, and looms over the future.
A second family—a copy family. Mirror bodies.
Events on the horizon: a hole, a box, a light, a girl.
Holes in houses. Holes in speaking. Holes in flesh.
Memories that deceive and figures that tempt and lure and withdraw.
There Is No Year is the astonishing new novel by Blake Butler.
It is a world of scare, a portrait of return, a fable of survival and the fierce burden of art.”
Thoughts: When Erica from Harper Perennial mentioned that There Is No Year is a challenging book, she was not exaggerating. Mr. Butler’s latest novel is virtually indescribable in its plot but powerful in the emotions it evokes. Part poetry, part artistic rendering, it is a novel like no other.
There Is No Year follows, in a very meandering and disturbing fashion, the lives of an unnamed family after they move into their house of dreams. Each family member is haunted by his or her own memories and thoughts. The entire story is told in a dream-like fashion, where nightmares become reality in some way. Rooms mysteriously appear and disappear. Roads lead to nowhere and everywhere. What was once familiar is now strange. The passage of time is arbitrary and uneven. Through it all, the sense of foreboding is unmistakable and ever-present.
Just when the story delves into the most fantastical descriptions, Mr. Butler brings up a scene which diverts the reader’s attention back to the normal. Life is not as strange as the father, mother and son would have the reader expect. They still go to work, clean the house, go grocery shopping, go to school, etc. They lead normal lives. Yet, everything they “see”, “hear” and experience is anything but normal. Is it mental illness? Are they just dreams? Is it just their mind’s interpretation of their experiences? Isn’t life dream-like? The answer is up to the individual reader.
There Is No Year is as much a work of art as it is a novel. Told in sparse chapters, the reader needs to pay as much attention to the individual placement of each word as to the words themselves. Interspersed throughout are images devoted to the play of shadow and light, and the pages themselves cover the spectrum of black to various shades of gray and even white. It is simply visually stunning.
The entire novel is meant to be devoured by all the senses. The textures and colors of the pages, the words, and the images are all meant to help enhance the dream-like quality of the story. Yet, it is not a novel that one can simply pick up and read cover to cover. There Is No Year requires careful reading and even more careful thought before the message reveals itself to the reader. Once it does, though, it is well worth the time and effort it takes to get through the novel.