A BOX IN A VALISE IN A BOOK
Reverentially using readymades from Marcel Duchamp’s life and work, Olson has constructed a depthless novel, as irreducible and mysterious a work of art as, say, Étant donnés, which the book reproduces in a striking frontispiece. THE BLOND BOX, like Duchamp’s work, oddly tempts parsing, seeming to leave clues to a more pointed narrative everywhere, one about a murder, even.
Due to a scissors-like nexus of chance and predetermination, in 1949, on a dark and stormy night, several characters end up in Courbet, Arizona (the origin of this world, no doubt) — at the Last Chance Saloon. One is El Malabarista — “The Juggler” — an endearing drunk who sings for his supper, famed in the region for his magnificently tasteful piano playing. Currently El Malabarista is working as an accompanist for a troupe of sex performers on tour in the southwest. The group’s specialty is a nuptial fuckfest starring the well-endowed El Soltero — “The Bachelor.”
The night of the novel’s opening — delayed in time by the text’s various artifices — still echoes in 1969, when Dick DeLay, the author of a pulpy science fiction series, and Sandy Redcap, his diabetic yet indefatigable research assistant, contrive a plot uncannily mirroring the events of two decades past.
The narrative is decidedly non-madcap, despite the setup. And though such a structure tends toward convergence — of the past and present, or the real and fantastic — when resolution does occur, Olson masterfully presents a congress more of proximity than resonance. Olson manages a detached elegance throughout, despite the work’s accreting insanity, loping through his interlocking chapters with genteel commas and novelistic observations, which, only upon final inspection, reveal a worldview of impressive flatness.