Immersion


"I sometimes wonder if they even know what they've done."

I yesterday caught myself immersed in a book. I'd started the book more out of obligation than attraction. I'd spotted it in the library and found a strange attraction to it, though it came as an English translation from its original French. Then I kept it unread for nearly three weeks before sensing an impending past due notice. Opening it then, I learned that the manuscript had been delivered to the publisher by a retired attorney who had twenty-some years earlier agreed to deliver it following the death of the author's mother. The author, himself, had thrown himself in front of a train shortly after delivering the manuscript to his lawyer. This was the author's second novel, the first having finaled for a Man Booker Prize. Upon receiving the package, a junior publishing house clerk deposited it into the dreck pile where it remained unacknowledged for several months until a more senior partner found it. A flurry of authentication activity commenced, finally resulting in publication. I didn't suspect then that this set-up was part of the fiction. The book was actually written by the well-respected Scottish novelist Graeme Macrae Burnnet.

An Accident on the A35 is set outside of Strasbourg, France, and follows a rather bumbling small city chief of police as he investigates a fatal automobile accident, but all this plot serves as a nothing more than medium for something quite otherworldly.
No, the author never resorts to employing the cheaper conventions of actually casting zombies, wizards, or superheroes. He instead creates an Immersion. Immersions transcend the story to deposit the reader somewhere else; not just in his head or in the book, but somewhere else, instead. Dare I even try to explain it? Most books remain simply books, words printed on predictable pages featuring sequential chapters and page numbers. Others seem more like windows, where the illusion of words printed on pages simply does not hold. Those books seem to open panoramas, projecting scenes indistinguishable from what one might view through a window. Others go further to produce a sensation wholly unlike reading or viewing, but they seem to immerse the so-called reader within a place and a time.

The story unfolds as if I'd already read it before, which could be the case since I read many books and never keep track of what I've read. I often return from the library to discover a repeat customer in the fresh pile. I know I've never read this book before, but every element seems so familiar to me though I've only ever overnighted in the region within which the story unfolds. I swear that I can smell the scents of the place and hear the foreign sounds of trolleys and trains, knock-off American bars, and funny-looking cars. I find each description (none of which present like descriptions should) unsurprising. Of course it's like that, I sense. How else could it have possibly been? Time, of course, suspends itself through Immersion. Chapters melt timelessly. I lose any sense of separation from the scenes playing before me, perhaps because they do not seem to be either playing or before me. I'm am a character within the story, I feel unnamed and undescribed, yet strangely still present there. My usual reader's objective observer does not exist, and need not exist from my place Immersed within the story.

I come up for air, gasping between chapters, the trance temporarily broken. I can think of nothing better to do then except perhaps fetch a glass of water before sinking back into the story again. I maintain a sort of a list of authors who seem to deliver this brand of literary experience. I hope every book will pull off this magic, though few do. Those days when I stumble upon an unread old reliable in the stacks are only eclipsed by those days when I stumble upon a previously undiscovered author producing this effect. I've studied these works, trying to prize out the secret. What makes this prose produce such transcendent experience? I still have no clue. I deeply appreciate without understanding a lick of how any of them pull off the illusion. I suspect that it's more personal, that what transports me won't transport you, so that no mere reviewer could ever clue another into the existence of a reliable producer. I know that a novel need not produce this effect in order to top the New York Times Bestseller list. Often as not, virtual unknowns achieve this state of the art, one which I consider to be the absolute pinnacle of the craft. I sometimes wonder if they even know what they've done.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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