Goodreads: I’m Just Not That Into You

At first glance, Goodreads seemed like a great guy for a long-term relationship.  He was always there for me.  He was always saying, “You’re so pretty,” and “You’re so smart.”  Mom and friends swooned.  What more could I want from the man who said, “You’ll always be my five-star.”  Sure, his drunk friends would occasionally troll and sneer, “She’s not all that,” but he was quick to roll eyes and clamor to my defense.  After a while, it became a line.  It became clear I wasn’t the only five-star in his life.  It is time to shelve this relationship and start reading from a new relationship book.

The truth is, I wanted a man who took a stand.  A Highlander, there can be only one, stand.  I wanted a man who would say, “You are my one and only five-star.”  His mom could be a four-star gal, and all of his ex-girlfriends could be at most two-stars.  His five-star must be relegated to the best, the brightest, the Olympic-gold-world-record-holder.  For my man, he could only give out one five- star review.  I was done, done with the, “All women are five-stars,” kind of guy.  It might be good for dating to dole out five-star reviews to every participant, but it ain’t good for marriage.  I’m talking long term, someone I can grow old with. 

So, Goodreads, I’m just not that into you.  Your cover is great, and your lines are smooth as silk, but you lack character.  Only I don’t have a way of telling you that.  I’d give you five stars for your calculated plot and impeccable selection of setting for our dates, but your character development is one-star.  If I add these measures and divide by three (11/3), you average a 3.6 – a number still not low enough to express how I feel about you.  Here you look just slightly above average.  Any future girlfriend has to sift through a lot of text to put this number in perspective.  I want her to know what a scumbag you are, how you lured me with your appearance, your sweet talk, how you’re no better than Alec d’Urberville. You’re just another Dimmesdale, or Willoughby or Heathcliff.

I’ve moved on.  I’ve got a new rating system.  One that allows me to say, “That Alex Shakar, he has a great story line, but he keeps a really cluttered house”  or, “Thanks, Chuck Palahniuk, for ruining the mega-store bathroom setting for me.”  I’ve got more than one set of star ratings, because my five-star man has to be five stars on looks, substance AND direction.    My five-star man is one of a kind.

We Bury the Landscape

I probably would not have picked this book on my own.  The author contacted me via Matt Bell’s website link to my blog, and I felt a certain obligation to reciprocate for the blog promotion.  The word microfiction carried with it the baggage of experimental and therefore unknown, undefineable.  The topic itself, though, touched upon a personal interest – each micro-essay narrates a Surrealist painting.  I could wander around art museums for my entire existence, so beginning to read Kristine Ong Muslim’s writing was easy.  Completing the book, however, was not.

I struggled with connecting the pieces (a total of 100) and even more so with reading comprehension.  I read a set of the painting-mini-novels and could not recall the first…or the third…or the last.  Bumbling through the first fifty or so writings, I said to myself, “Each of these pieces is fascinating in and amongst themselves, but they are not in any way connected beyond the art period.”  Then it hit me:  I did not know how to read microfiction.  I was reading We Bury the Landscape as a novel.  It is not a novel.

Remember those school field trips to a museum where forty or so of you fourth graders were shepherded, more like shoved, like reluctant cattle through innumerable art galleries, one right after another.  The docent droned on like the teacher in Peanuts, and all you can remember is the Egyptian sarcophagus, because, seriously, how could you miss it?  That’s what reading microfiction like a novel is like.  As the pages speed by, the ideas become words, devolve to letters, then to lines and curves.  The content loses its meaning.

A few months ago, I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as a solo visitor.  I was free to waft in and out of the galleries and delay at will.  As I stared into Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the swirls of the moon began a hypnotic rotation.  The scale of Monet’s Water Lilies gave the illusion of merging with the water as I stood in front of its three expansive panels.  I could even hear the overlapping jazz riffs while gazing into Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie.  Microfiction must be approached in the same way a fulfilling museum visit should be:  each piece must be given time.  

We Bury the Landscape narrates the frustrations, the rejections and the angst of the Post-World War I art world.  Hear the stream of consciousness, the free associations, the nightmares, the dreams.  Hear them one by one.  Writing a book to cycle on the shelf, off the shelf for a lifetime, Muslim offers a gallery.  Sit in this gallery for a while.  Cling to the words and watch them swirl.  See and hear their music.

We Bury the Landscape

Kristine Ong Muslim

Queen’s Ferry Press  2012