By Stephen Dixon
S tephen Dixon's writing style is a mess. Sentences spill across the page, sometimes running on, sometimes interrupting themselves. Run-on sentences turn into run-on paragraphs, which turn into run-on chapters. In Dixon's newest novel, I., a sprawling memoir by a protagonist eerily similar to Dixon himself, Dixon even reflects on this chaotic tendency.
"He writes and writes and writes and nothing comes out," writes Dixon. "So he writes some more... and still the same thing... Things he's done, things he's done something very much like, things he doesn't want to do but finds himself doing and knows he'll have to cut, things like this: crap, bilge, blather, fakery, self-imitation, pushing it, meaningless words, lines, pages, but all in one paragraph."
I. is 340 pages of this; the meandering of a writer desperate to get something down on paper. Paragraph breaks are lost in the rush, and even dialogue is lumped together in one endless stream: "'Maybe we need a new car,' his wife says when he gets off the phone, and he says, 'We can't afford one, but you're probably right.'"
It sounds tedious, but it isn't, though it can be tiresome, if only because the eyes aren't used to seeing text laid out on a page like that. Make the adjustment, though, and some pretty interesting stuff slips through, particularly in regards to Dixon/the protagonist's wife, who is confined to a wheelchair by a debilitating disease. Great mounds of text are devoted to things like helping her take a shower, and cleaning up her shit when she loses control of her rectum. It would be exploitative if Dixon's character wasn't so self-critical. He hates himself for getting mad at his family, for getting old, for hiding a lack of confidence under a mask of self-effacement, for writing indulgently. He can be pathetically over-analytical, but also likeable, even funny, and yet depressing and creepy. "I." (not the pronoun, but rather Dixon's character's name for himself) is a character difficult to describe because "I." is a conglomeration of everything going on in "I.'s" head at once. "I." is frustrating. "I." is wonderful. "I." is a real human being. JUSTIN SANDERS