Jaded Ibis Press, 2015
Reviewed by Eireene Nealand
Post-Postmodern Counterpoint in Jason Snyder’s Family Album
In music, counterpoint is a mesh of independent melodies, called ‘voices.’ Each of these may be enjoyed by the listener as separate lines but together they’re meant to form a more complex polyphonic whole. Jason Snyder’s Family Album, the story of a fictional adoption process that forces several separate lives to become mutually penetrating, applies the method by through a series of stylistically divergent documentations: interviews with a social worker, write-ups of photographs, elementary school essays, phone and answering machine communications, direct conversations, and musical stream-of-consciousness passages meant to represent the main character, Matty’s, chaotic subconscious reactions to being forced to take part in the process.
No overarching narrator holds the story together. As such, one might expect the stylistic disparities to create a jarringly postmodern reading experience, i.e. one that is choppy and gapped. Nothing, however, could be further from the experience of reading Family Album. True to the tradition of counterpoint, the various documentations are set against one another as juxtapositional montages, whereby the meaning of each documentation is both a complete in itself (due to internal tensions) and open to being rounded out, unsettled and incompleted by an additional supplement, which suggests or develops a new dimension of what’s already there.
The result is remarkably immersive, more like watching a film than reading a difficult piece of experimental literature. Though one cares most for Matty, the family’s only child — who reacts to the idea of adopting another into what he knows to be a dysfunctional family, through a series of violent acts against himself and others — the reader follows Matty as a figure, reinterpreted against a shifting background. ‘The adoption process,’ and the ‘family,’ like a number of other creatures glimpsed obliquely amongst the changing relations between parts, expands, contracts and otherwise oozes about in such a way that it never has a single location. Instead, amidst the various juxtapositions, one finds oneself watching – mostly in horror — the shifting contours of an adoption process created by otherwise-directed intentions. It’s just such a condition that counterpoint is designed to address, and one that, increasingly, should be familiar to readers living in the seemingly-unplannable, always co-optable, massive-multi-player unruliness of late capitalism.
Eireene Nealand plays the cello in a baroque trio. To her degrees from UC Berkeley and UCLA, she recently added a Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz, where she studies proprioception, a neurobiological faculty that allows humans to detect movement and shift. Cinematic prose is part of her current research.