Lake of Urine, by Guillermo Stitch. Montclair, New Jersey: Sagging Meniscus Press, July 2020. 214 pages. $21.00, paper.
Two beginner tricks of competitive memory are 1) create a memory palace and 2) occupy it. The more absurd, obscene, lascivious, and odorous the occupants—the better. Take, for example, Abraham Lincoln masturbating your mom in a childhood bathtub as a raven consumes a severed breast on his top hat. Exhibit B: Max Headroom juggling a turkey that’s also a chainsaw. Randy Savage doing blow off the teats of an alpaca.
I rest my infatuation. Permanent vacay for the jury.
Guillermo Stitch and Madame Blavatsky, drunk one night, drew a map. Squinting, they gave it a river. Didn’t waste time on names—Big City, Small Town, Tiny Village. Magic requires haste. They drew on Big Mac® wrappers, littering the trailer house, taped it above the short-circuiting toaster.
Stitch has concocted a portable Hell.
Lake of Urine juggles polarities. Magnifies them, to smoke out hypocrisy and depravity in our obsessions—Measurement, Worth, Image.
Cars rot on cinder blocks. Marauding dogs nip heels of cousins and second-cousins on a honeymoon stroll. In the bywaters (where most of the book takes place) of the Palace, we encounter the familiar made queerer. Characters bent into Stitchian caricatures. A maid’s daughter’s first word is “mop.” Noranbole—one of the rotating-door-protagonists, daughter of Emma Wakeling and true darling of this nightmare—spends the book’s first section giving fellatio, as recipients share at great length the woes/desperation of capturing their eye’s real apple, her sister, Urine.
Females spend a minimum of 50% of their time “milking” men. Men are metronomes endlessly tilting between sex and power. Stitch has set the stage for discarded players. A family tale. Time warps across generations. Time is irrelevant. The polarities matter: man/woman, love/hate.
A soup, this world. A lake.
“Seiler,” a la narrator Willem Seiler, is the swan song. A string-scientist. Not string-theory, like yarn. Using it to measure things: snow depth, lake depth. While the most dynamic character, a canary in a coal mine, Seiler’s still afflicted by the piss affecting everyone else. Slovenly and in love with Noranbole, aroused at any prospect that could give theater to his ideas about measurement (polarities). But his outsider opinions, in frank juxtaposition to the status quo of Tiny Village, hilariously blow our hair back:
Naturally Urine looked even worse than usual that early morning up at the lake. Covering her in goose fat had been just about unbearable. I don’t know why she couldn’t have done it herself. Still, there wasn’t much of her and I would have plenty left to see me through the rest of the winter, for tatties and for Ms Wakeling to apply to my nether parts.
Stitch’s imagination is envy-inducing. Fans of Donald Barthelme’s most playful prosody, or the breakneck humor of A Confederacy of Dunces, will have to remind themselves to breathe in between those first 18 pages. (If isolated, “Seiler” would be my favorite short story of the last decade.)
There are no handouts, though. Not in Tiny Village.
In “Noranbole,” every sentence Bernard, Noranbole’s lover, says, is in a different language, one of which belongs to binary code.
“Emma Wakeling,” the book’s third of four sections, alternates between chapters outlining Wakeling’s failed eight marriages, and chapters exploring rooms of her childhood home smack of a style even Robbe-Grillet would find erotic.
Like Joyce, Stitch has enough invented verbiage to expose just how much he gives a shit about offering your mind an anchor. He’s inviting you for a smelly swim aimed at exploding paradigms. Unlike Joyce, Stitch keeps you reading. He’s the hiking buddy that waits just long enough for you to catch up before bounding off again. The cookie crumbs are rich, jerky prose:
A silence. A lengthy silence. A lengthy, uncomfortable silence. Long and uncomfortable and silent. Very long. Noranbole sitting back on her heels. Brow furrowed, lips all aquiver, eyes down. Bernard staring at the drooped lids of his one true.
He has said it.
He is ready for death!
He isn’t breathing particularly well.
Her eyes rise in a cold stare that makes him feel sick.
“Ja, mein Schatz?”
“You got any money?”
Or the absurd jabs at late capitalism, as in the annual burger-flipping competition:
‘Flip’ Mc Side, reigning world champion, was due to arrive in Big City today . . . he’s been nursing a very severe case of burger elbow for some years now. All kept hush hush, of course. We’ve been getting him through with cortisone injections but that isn’t going to cut it this time . . . You can appreciate the billions that are tied up in an event of this scale. How many people depend on its success.
For all the frivolity, and wrong-turns, Stitch has a lofty goal:
Noranbole’s aspiration for Terra Forma was to break away entirely from the binary restraints of Classical versus Romantic and to trailblaze a wholly new approach.
I don’t want to give away too many juicy secrets. But trailblaze Lake of Urine does. And for the patient reader, who relinquishes control to Stitch, they’ll earn a back-porch-view as the old regime burns down:
“Take a good look, my dear . . . A historic moment—you can tell your grandchildren how you watched the old morality disappear one night.”
If it’s anything—and surely 100 times you’ll wonder what the fuck it is—Lake of Urine is memorable.
2020 may not see a wilder book. Bring marshmallows. It’s a snuff film. With something of a happy ending.
Tyler Dempsey got to fly into space to save our planet. He got the girl. No. Wait. Bruce Willis. Armageddon. Find his stories here, or him rambling @tylercdempsey.