The Height and Depth of Everything
University of Nevada Press ($17)
by Sheila Squillante
In "Arrow Math," the opening story of Katherine Haake's The Height and Depth of Everything, the narrator tells us she is "big these days on frameworks, any kind of structure, the smallest degree of order by which to contain the chaos that has taken over." Thus does Haake draw a blueprint for how to read and understand her engaging experimental fiction, which challenges the primacy of elements like plot and character by asserting the importance of form and structure.
This is delightfully evident in the book's closing story, "This Is Geology to Us"; its quirky and unstable narrative, punctuated with one-sentence italicized paragraphs, is further complicated when the narrator tells us "I have taught for seven years and am a tenured professor at Cal State Northridge." As noted on the book's jacket, Haake herself also teaches at Cal State Northridge. Is this her story? Possibly. Is this fiction? Non-fiction? Meta-fiction? Yes.
Haake announces early on that she finds genre boundaries frustrating. A character in "Arrow Math" discussing her feelings about poetry, confesses she "find[s] poetry more difficult, disturbing, and cryptic than math." She goes on to describe a poetry reading in which the poet speaks about the use of parentheses, about "what happens when they don't close, how serene and seductive they can be." Haake here aligns herself with poets such as Lyn Hejinian, who argues that the notion of closure--both syntactical and thematic--works to limit the possibilities in creative writing. In her essay "The Rejection of Closure," Hejinian suggests that "whatever the pleasures, in a fundamental way closure is a fiction." Conflict does not always resolve itself, Hejinian says; sometimes, it keeps opening up to new, surprising, even more complicating situations.
Haake's stories, too, set in the harsh and uncertain landscapes of the Western states, work against easy resolution. Her characters struggle through blizzards, earthquakes, desert heat and volcanic eruption, while trying to make sense of their lives. In "A Small Measure of Safety," Nellie "is amazed and secretly pleased by the wind--its brutality, its constancy, its wild pitch and shrug," and knows that if it were to stop, she might catch the sound of her and her husband's hearts "thrumming." But it doesn't stop. Like the natural occurrences in her stories, Haake disallows the comfort of closure. We may never know the answers, she suggests; that's just the way life works.
Readers who seek the predictability of the narrative arc or an idealized vision of the difficult life won't find such gestures here. Like Haake's character Penelope in "The Woman in the Water," who "could never bear the finality of the straight line," these stories offer contradiction and possibility; they leave us disordered and questioning, always balanced on "the precipice of change."