Mike Corrao’s Notes on the Authorial Flux of SWERVE: A NOVEL OF DIVERGENCE by Vincent James, McCormick Templeman, & Rowland Saifi

We are operating within a set of obfuscated constraints—ones which we can detect, and to an extent identify, but not fully understand. There are dice rolls, geographical mapping/organization, references to other texts, and large-scale tethering to their themes/narratives/motifs. But the practical ways that these tools are used is done so out of our view. Behind the curtain or under the writer’s desk.

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Vincent James, McCormick Templeman, and Rowland Saifi assemble the text through OULIPO-inspired methodologies to create a metaphysical and ethereal detective novel. Swerve as a whole does not necessarily have a cohesive plot. There is a semi-unified first-person narrator, recurring settings, recurring characters. But there is never quite this sense that there is only one mystery to be solved. One missing persons to be found. A certain connectivity is missing between clues and scenes. And that is because these facets of the text are not its priority. Swerve’s world is dreamy and spontaneous. Its use of the detective genre is more a means to create an investigative lens for the reader.

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The work is segmented into five sections (SWERVE 1, SWERVE 2, etc.) each written fully by one of the three authors.

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The investigative process is reminiscent of psychogeography. It is not a cat-and-mouse game of logic and discovery. We are guided by the unconscious. Following the flow of time and space. Letting some unseen, and seemingly occulted, hand guide us through an ever-complexifying set of circumstances. The only antagonistic force really being reality itself. Always in the process of disassembling and reassembling around us.

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From the outset, it is immediately obvious that something is off about this place. People speak in winding and esoteric allegories. They trace etymologies on the spot. The world is shaped in mythological terms. Mentions of mermaids, arboreal militias, water goddesses. Yet we are standing in an apartment in New Mexico, riding a bus to Ojai, or in a Bay Area office.

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There is a magical realism to this place. But not in the traditional sense. Fabulist elements are contorted into something conspiratorial. At times, the text is reminiscent of David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake, where everything is on purpose, everything is meaningful, everything is a clue—secrets hidden in pop songs or in the arrangement of bricks on the west face of a brownstone building.

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Similar as well is the position of the protagonist. For the most part our detective is a passive figure. Letting the whims of those around him, of passing thoughts and environmental clues, dictate his next move. Allowing every facet of reality to unravel the mystery on his behalf.

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Spiders appear as potential informants, bells resemble prosthetic limbs. Of a priest on the bus the detective notes, “sometimes I think his face changes with each passing stop.”

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The passive figure is rendered mobile by the active position of its surroundings. The “narrative” is perpetuated by those the detective encounters, not by the detective himself.

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We are asked in the penultimate section, “Do characters make choices?” and the answer largely seems to be irrelevant. If they do make choices, it is not because they must. Regardless of what they do, the world will keep churning. The mystery will continue complexifying. If the detective does not make the decision of what to do next, someone else will do it for him. This is not an investigation performed by one agent, but perpetuated by the text as a whole, each facet of the prose, setting, plot, ensuring a continuation of the detective’s journey.

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Between each of the text’s five sections we see minor formal changes. Each author working with their own individual approach rather than attempting to form a unified voice. One working in short and contemplative block paragraphs, another in long descriptive passages, yet another in quick free-flowing and jazzy sentences. Each shift muddles the identity of the detective.

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A kind of schizoanalytic structure forms. Rather than honing into a singular identity, the detective expands into a multitude of faces/desires/personalities. There is no attempt to reduce this figure into one entity. They appear as something unstable or incomplete. An amorphous blob shaping to each new environment it encounters.

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“Here’s where the story takes a detour”: at the transition from one section to another, we experience a sudden disruption. The narrative has restarted, jump-cut, collaged itself, replaced certain details with new ones. Not only is the position of the detective unstable, but the position of the text as a whole. There is nothing bolted to the floor. All can change in a moment. Entering a new reality or shuffling the deck of an old one.

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Certain elements remain, but their contexts are prone to change. We must walk carefully, under the fear that any sudden movement could render the world something completely new and unrecognizable.

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“An experiment in reading as much as it is in writing”: the process of moving through Swerve is simultaneously investigative or perhaps likened to the work of a geographical surveyor. We are taking in the greater landscape of the text and finding a means for navigating it.

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To an extent, the active position within the text is taken up by the reader, who must take these esoteric passages and shape them into a greater investigation within their own imagination, projecting meaning onto each event/clue/conversation.

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It is in the process of working through Swerve that the aesthetic screen of the detective novel gains its depth.

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We investigate the OULIPO interior of the book-object. Attempting to both understand the mystery and the constraints that shape it. The Author Note acting almost as a case file, a starting point for us to work from, attempting to connect or track the geographical arrangements/intertextual connections that each of the three authors is creating.

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The position of the author here is not so much authorial/authoritative as it is subservient. The writer must work within the parameters of that have been set. They must give control over to the random nothingness of the dice roll, to other authors, to the works that they are confined to speak in conversation with.

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They leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the detective to follow, for the reader to latch onto and dissect.

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In sync, James, Templeman, and Saifi all come together to create a unique work, exploring a terrain of unconscious landmarks. Swerve articulates the nuanced control allotted to the reader when the author has given up the guise of control, and allowed themselves instead to evoke the whims of the text itself.

Swerve: A Novel of Divergence, by Vincent James, McCormick Templeman, & Rowland Saifi. Vermillion, South Dakota: Astrophil Press, February 2021. 219 pages. $17.95, paper.

Mike Corrao is the author of three books, Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing), Two Novels (Orson’s Publishing), and Gut Text (11:11 Press); one chapbook, Avian Funeral March (Self-Fuck); and many short films. Along with earning multiple Best of the Net nominations, Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as 3:AMThe CollagistAlways Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis.

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