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