fortification-resortLynn Crawford
Black Square Editions ($11.95)

by Jim Feast

In her new work of short stories, Fortification Resort, Lynn Crawford seems more in tune with the French New Novelists of the 1960s, such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute, than with the more formalist Oulipo school with which she is sometimes associated. The New Novelists employed a deadpan, impersonal prose that focused on the depiction of exteriors and surfaces rather than inner states. Their purpose was not to forestall sentimentality in the manner of similarly toned American hardboiled writers, but to exaggerate (with a straight face) the characteristics of scientific and academic style and to explore the power to move readers via a mode of writing that is emotionally tamped down.

While Crawford draws from this heritage, the formidableness of her satirical attack gives her writing a different focus. Her language is modeled on—and quietly spoofs—upscale New Age promotional writing, fluff that would extol a spa, new skin enhancer, Pilates program or other psychic or physical rehabilitation. While her prose parodies this material, her content matches style to subject in describing the world of New Age service providers and their clientele. She never voices open criticism of the group, but offhandedly skewers the pretensions, muffled cruelty, and sometimes downright wackiness of her characters.

In "Scout," for instance, the protagonist describes different areas in a deluxe retreat, each more outrageous than the last. In the ocean room, the narrator mentions, "Today, in the mood for something calmer, we set a light wave / light breeze program and discharged imitation sea creatures, designed to users with gentle pressure, no biting, no rough rubbing." That's nothing compared to what we find in the Mean Sex building, where the narrator visits the Potty Room, "a station used by a few regulars who orchestrate their play around going to the bathroom: forcing one another to go, not allowing one another to go," in order to "test bacteria levels." And then there's the UFO Abduction area. The agility of Crawford's writing keeps such descriptions from going over the deep end into obvious satire; she balances readers on the knife edge of uncertainty as to whether she is being straightforward or slyly devious in her tales.

Take "Eco Lady," in which she pokes mild fun at Green Party politicians. In this piece, the feisty grandmother who leads the local ecology movement decides to repackage polluted land while it is awaiting cleanup in the following manner: "She enlivens potentially dead land with a synthetic modern forest-park: clumps of plastic painted to resemble seasonal trees, groves of firs, bushes, and well-marked paths." Or look in "Fancy," the tale of a daughter who is reminiscing about the spirited hi-jinks of her mother. The daughter good naturedly suggests that no one could be offended by this prank: "Mom makes a stew and stirs in, along with peas, beef, carrots, a half dozen buttons."

These examples should indicate that Crawford's Fortification Resort, which might have resulted in heavy-handed exercises in French-derived prosody and jejune protest, has been filled with amazing élan, rib-tickling humor, and effervescent delicacy.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2005/2006 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2005/2006