by Nathan Dragon
Floating Notes by Babak Lakghomi (Tyrant Books, 2018)
Floating Notes by Babak Lakghomi is a deep and profound novella, paranoid, regimented and preoccupied, incongruent and beautiful. It lacks reasons, answers, sometimes the most important questions, and a linear and straightforward sensibility despite its short and quick sentences and sections. It’s like a silver corkscrew bent out of shape, sometimes you go by the same spiral again, reflections distorted or from a different angle.
In an interview printed at the end of Camera, Jean-Philippe Toussaint speaks on minimalism: “The problem with the idea of minimalism is that it’s very simplistic. The term ‘minimalist’ calls to mind the infinitely small, whereas ‘infinitesimal’ evokes the infinitely large as much as the infinitely small: it contains the two extremes”. Toussaint goes on to say, “that should always be found in my books.” Floating Notes does this in its own right.
Floating Notes begins in a small attic room, but even before mentioning the room, the narrator tells us he mostly goes by the name of Bob, even though it is not his real name and how if no one around him knows his real name he’ll introduce himself as Bob, how Bob can’t remember the first time he wrote his real name but he can remember when somebody else had the same name as his real name, too. The rest of the novella seems to incubate here in this type of misdirection and run around, these types of crooked common threads; the next section or fragment begins, “My name is Bob.”
We follow this guy Bob, who actually is a bit reminiscent of Toussaint’s narrator in The Bathroom or Camera, worried and confused, but prompted, around some small rooms confined like the novella itself, through a sort of narrow range of places: the attic room, a motel room, a water treatment plant, coffee shops (but never the same one), a hospital room, a pub that only serves coffee, and memories.
Bob is looking for something, throughout the novella and Bob’s going through something, it’s complicated, or maybe not at all. Maybe he’s overcomplicating it. Something or someone might be looking for him, too. Bob looks out the peephole of his door to see what’s going on in the hallway, he looks out his window, he presses his ear against his neighbors’ wall, ever since his ex-wife Ava pointed out a black car on their street. The black car stays around but he’s got no idea about Ava anymore. Not only does Ava disappear from his life, but so do others soon after they enter his life, like a masseuse or the two roommates he meets individually one, because of the other, Lily and Sheila.
The novella is incredibly unsettling, feeling like pockets of life in the way that time, memory and imagination, isolation and misunderstanding are handled and tucked into everything. It is fast and slow. It is episodic, but even more so, it is made up of pieces of episodes that have broken down or disintegrated. The pieces change and we lose track of details. The details, all cyclical in nature, come back dislodged from their previous place. For instance, birds come up and up again obsessively. There are cranes, seagulls, eggs, sparrows, pigeons. Even a plastic bag stuck in a tree seems to be a bird perched up there. There is Ava, you know, meaning like bird things.
The episodic nature of Floating Notes is almost exponential. Episodes within are degenerating right in front of us, or they’re at least breaking down into. Things happen and happen again differently, happen when they shouldn’t:
It wasn’t the first time this was happening to me.
Not to mention, at a coffee shop, when it’s not supposed to happen because Bob marks off all the coffee shops he’s been to on a map so as not to repeat visits:
The regular, Bob?
Lakghomi seems to leave clues (like how this book about birds in the following quote seems to show up in Floating Notes as well) all over the place, expanding the universe of his writing. For example, even outside of Floating Notes, in this year’s NOON Annual, in his story “The Mourner”:
The man sold his wife’s gold, spent his money on eggs — of geese, of swans, of eagles. He bought an incubator from a lab supply store, brought eggs to temperature noted in a book, but none of the eggs hatched.
Or instead of clues, maybe red herring, since after all Bob lets us know that “The orderly turned towards [him] and winked”.
The orderly winked.
The whole thing, the whole ordeal, is just waiting for something to hatch and it doesn’t really, following roads that don’t have dead ends but just disappear. It almost feels shameful to try to describe any of this, it doesn’t do any justice. The structure of Floating Notes and the feel of it exemplify Lakghomi’s ability to turn you around. There is a thrilling world of its own contained within a short hundred pages. It is, as Noy Holland says in a blurb on the back of the book, “a place of symbols that will not cohere.”.
Lakghomi has made a shifting and devastating work of art with entirely its own voice about isolation and notebooks and the momentum of how little redundancies and thoughts take over — thoughts imaginative, paranoid, omnipotent, interacting with the world and shown to us. It’s a really worthwhile read, sincere, about things going away, somewhere else, gone; about not knowing what to do or what had happened.