“The Literature of Doom-scrolling”: Gabriel Blackwell’s Correction, a review by Gillian Perry

Reaching the end of this collection, or novel, or account, or whatever this book is to be categorized as, Blackwell acknowledges, “And then of course there is the internet.” Rescue Press’s 2019 Open Prose Selection, Correction does more than just acknowledge the internet—it displays the multifaceted way in which the internet has changed our thinking. These flash-point stories capture tragic, convoluted, and often hauntingly realistic episodes, where never just one thing is happening. Reading Correction feels a bit like doom-scrolling: gun violence, after murder suicide, after violent health care strikes, after commentary on how all of this feels unoriginal. While pointing to the undercurrent of tragedy in each of these stories, these speakers are just passive observers as we all are, every day, behind our screens. The beauty of this work is in its self-consciousness. In writing on writing itself, the intricacies and inconsistencies in the practice, Blackwell is able to point to himself and pose the question: is writing about the pervasive, hammering heart of disaster in our lives just adding to the din?

As the editor of The Rupture, and author to five other works of fiction and essay, Blackwell is an acclaimed disrupter. His most recent collection, Babel, has been likened to the work of Borges or Nabokov, and carries a warning from its publisher Splice, “Reader be warned: Babel does not stand on solid ground.” Correction similarly does not offer many landing points, and it follows in this pattern of subverting expectation for what fiction or essay should or should not be. Just like his past works published in Tin House, DIAGRAM, Post Road, and the Kenyon Review, Correction challenges the rules of reality, and sits in the mercurial space between thought and emotion. This collection complements Blackwell’s previous works, but also presents a new tangent. These are stories without absolution, without a singular central move, and like his unfurling prose, roll forward relentlessly, pressing us to accept and build alongside Blackwell and his chorus of speakers.

Blackwell is no stranger to prose that reflects the interconnected and often sporadic nature of thought. His sentences unfold dizzyingly, a series of messy streams of consciousnesses, that always draw back or point to one deafening, brilliant move. Take for example, essay “#030 Significant.” The essay follows one man as he encounters an insect in his bathroom in the middle of the night, “the size of a particularly bulky knitted child’s beanie.” Weaving in and out of this man’s thoughts about his new baby, his squabble with his wife concerning the need for a house with at least one and a half bathrooms, the thought of this obscene insect stalks him. But then, when he expects to confront it once more, “… he stepped into the room and closed the door and this is where the story ends, because it isn’t a story about a creature, large or small, but only a story about what the man saw and why it seemed significant to him.” In refusing to resolve the arc that Blackwell has set up here, he is asking us to reconsider this essay’s title, “Significance.” What is significant other than what this man saw? What is significance anyway? Though these micro-fictions resist categorization, what remains consistent from essay to essay is a note of profundity—in refusing to conclude or resolve these stories, Blackwell is pointing to a universal truth of humanity. Life goes on, conflicts often unresolved. And, the process of assigning meaning to the things we experience can often be as random and bizarre as our spiraling thoughts.

Throughout this collection Blackwell plays with meaning-making and spiraling in terms of pop culture, news media, and writing itself. Essay “#066. Fascinating and Disgusting” follows a woman attempting to write a book on a type of behavior pattern that indicates a person may commit suicide. As the essay unravels, it is revealed that this is in fact a letter to the editor, and the protagonist is extremely frustrated, and that she had come to assume her rejection was the result of chauvinism, and when she receives an “Out of the Office” reply, she returns with “I know you’re not out of the office, she wrote, I’ve seen your posts.” Suddenly a story about an inexperienced writer attempting to capture a trend has unsnarled into a story about the pervasiveness of social media, and potentially, stalking.“#003. Blue Light” is told by a man and his wife, examining the subtleties in his neighbors’ behavior. Whether it’s the “dismissive” comment he made “about the so-called controversy over the national coffee chain’s decision to use plain red cups in place of more traditionally holiday-themed cups” or the American flag pattern on his lighter, they are attempting to resolve how they had come to find him on the news that evening, for showing up “… holding semi-automatic rifles outside the local library, protesting the protest going on at the park across the street where the unarmed schizophrenic had been shot by police the day before.” This story, in its one-two punch of gun violence and then police violence, feels extraordinary in its eerie familiarity. After this whiplash, the characters change the television channel and return to their devices, bringing us back to the title which has definitely been forgotten. Each of these essays exemplifies how Blackwell instructs the stories tugs us in multiple directions, and land them in a place that feels earned, that feels important.

In “#045. Black Dog,” a first-person voice considers writing a story about a black dog. But then, after fantasizing about the mass appeal and career potential of this story, letting the story evolve to mirror the “aliens-invade-Earth” movie he is watching, he decides that like his other stories, no one will want to read this one either. There is not one “Black Dog” story in this collection. Each offers a new intrigue, a new thought to chew over. Correction offers metafiction that forces us to look inward, to read the uncomfortable and often illuminating way in which thoughts evolve. This collection taught me how to write truthfully about the self—to present all information available, to avoid correction.

Correction, by Gabriel Blackwell. Rescue Press, April 2021. 236 pages. $18.00, paper.

Gillian Perry is a first year MFA candidate in fiction at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She writes about women, and the spooky, weird, and out of place. Her work has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly.

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