Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The New Crustacean

Among the pieces selected for The Sienese Shredder, I found “The New Crustacean” to be the most fascinating. Kreg Hasegawa’s short story is riddled with holes, each of which is so surrounded by familiar constructions that the reader easily creates possibilities that might fill the vacancies. The execution (this from a student in contemporary academia) is hardly unsettling, in large part because it is presented in a warm tone and with a near flippancy in regard the narrator’s choices of omissions. Commentary is made on the way stories are told – not just in regard to literature, but to the quotidian recollection of a days and weeks, and to the subjects of language which need not be specific to function.

A warning is offered right at the offset that concrete subjects will be problematic throughout the text. The narrator states that he (“a father, a brother, a lover, a friend”) cannot tell about himself because “you’d only be further from the truth.” He sets up the technique that will dominate the rest of the text by stating that he is “determined entirely by context.” The reader learns that he has a family, a past, and at the end he hitches a ride toward an indeterminate future, but the details are not offered. In one instance, no circumstances are disclosed of an event which overtakes the narrator with nausea and pain. All that exists are the peripheries and consequences, and the reader is left to imagine endless possibilities that could assume the event.

The most striking example of this occurs when the narrator prepares himself to return to the site of a family camping trip. The site is not described, but simply by its being an attraction because of its lake, vivid images which must differ from reader to reader cascade through its absence. The same is true of whatever objects a clerk at the “large store” advises the narrator to bring along. He sheepishly purchases four of something we can almost picture clearly: fishing lures, boots, ponchos, meals-ready-to-eat, rifles, snake bite kits, compasses, styrofoam floaties, etc.

The commentary on how stories can exist with such absences suggests that ingrained in readers are types of narrative frameworks which stand nearly by themselves. In reflecting on “The New Crustacean,” it is hard not to think of Saussure and the structures of difference which make language possible. Per the theory of his successors, these structures stand as well without centers. By constructing walls such as the one where Hasegawa’s narrator purchases the unnamed supplies, the author creates empty spaces for images, the specificity of which are unimportant.