Review: Black God, by Ben Spivey

Flowing in the Gossamer Fold was my introduction to Ben Spivey and it has that rare quality of growing in me even long after I read it. It was an interesting book, hypnotically surreal and powerful, but missing something. I enjoyed it greatly but it seemed to fall short of the heights it hinted at, never quite reaching its potential. A solid début, but slightly flawed, as if Spivey held back, timidly tying the other to the real in case the reader needed a guide back.

In Black God, Spivey dives fully into the hallucinations and the surreality of existence without bothering to even leave footprints on the shore. And in this way, Black God is everything that Flowing in the Gossamer Fold never managed to be. Though quite short, it hides great depth and power and emotion. It takes you by the throat and drowns you in this world that may or may not be here, a world disintegrating and growing with every sentence. You get claustrophobic, holding close to Cooper, the aged narrator, clutching him close as time and memory and love refract and contract around him. And when you reach the end, you may not recognise how you got there or the lands you traveled, but you know it mattered from the marks imprinted on you.

 I was getting closer to the light or the light was getting closer to me. I looked up and could see where I fell from—a house hanging in the sky like a new moon—the actual moon cast shadow on the home giving it celestial shape. I could even see the stairs I must have tumbled from hanging there like a limp wrist. And that was all I could see in the sky besides the light and what led to the vacuum of space. I knew the color of the waves by the sounds they made. The waves were a slate color. They churned forth and receded, keeping time. I looked at my hands. I could not, however, recall the color of the sky for the stars made no noise.

The prose is simple and barren and straightforward. There are no wasted words and it sometimes feels as if the narration or even the whole story is happening just beneath the words, shimmering faintly at the periphery, inviting you to dive deeper and swim through Spivey’s visions of collapsing love and memory. While individually the sentences stand uncomplicated and unexceptional, the combination of them creates this world so very different, so peculiar and surreal that you walk in it unaware until you look around to find you are not where you imagined you would be. It is a curious effect and it is one that loses you. You will get lost. You will search for a way back, for an exit, for an entrance only to find that the path goes ever forward into the darkness. Glimmers of light appear and the comfort of familiarity rises. You relax, finding your feet on solid ground once more only to have the light disappear and the flood coming.

There are few books I have read like this one. It does not give you a story or a character, but takes you. Cooper takes us through the hallucinations and memories and delusions and dreams with rough hands and stuttering steps. Incredibly insular, there is only Cooper and his unfiltered narration, his direct and simple approach to the surreal causing the disintegration and recreation of reality to take us by surprise.

With Black God, Ben Spivey takes a great leap forward. It is unrelenting and grotesque and somehow beautiful. Even the emotions here will surprise you as they flatten your lungs and clutch at your heart. One of a kind and wholly engrossing, if you have not checked out Ben Spivey yet, I cannot think of a better place to start.

Here I am, she said.
I didn’t ask where. There was no point.
We continued together for I had been swallowed.

Black God, by Ben Spivey. Blue Square Press, 2012. 144 pages. $12.00, paper.

edward j rathke is the author of Ash Cinema published by KUBOA Press (2012) as well as various short stories online and in print. He writes criticism and cultural essays for Manarchy Magazine, and edits and contributes to The Lit Pub. More of his work may be found here.

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