Derek White, Marsupial: Our Mother for the Time Being
Publisher: Calamari Press
2008, 200 pages, paperback, $18
the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” holds true in the case of Derek White’s recent novel Marsupial: Our Mother for the Time Being. Although, looking at the cover’s multi-medium clash of art and text, I venture to say that you get a good indication of what is inside. Like the cover, Marsupial juxtaposes storylines, dictionary definitions, script excerpts and collage art. All of the book’s jumbled text and imagery are bundled together through a loosely identified narrator.
“Stu,” the narrator for Marsupial, is simple enough. He’s a young Southern boy who follows his brother, an actor, to Paris in order to do stand-in work on a low-budget sci-fi B-movie about characters addicted to “bug juice.” While staying with his brother, Stu develops an obsession with his brother’s live-in girlfriend. Mix into this meta-novel a series of dream sequences, mild shifts in point-of-view, and an ongoing paranoia from the narrator and you get a sense of the Marsupial reading experience.
White’s piece relies on the language of film throughout. The author often employs a number of film motifs, including scripts, stage directions, and visual cues. The narrative structure itself leaves the reader feeling like they’re watching a film where sections (mainly the transitions) have been left out. A pervasive sense of listlessness permeates the text. This disorienting sensation mirrors the content of the book, and White should be commended for making a type of fiction that solicits a similar visceral response as some of Burroughs’ work, as well as the film work of mainstream, avant-garde hero David Lynch. The author even goes so far as to give a direct nod to David Lynch’s Eraserhead by naming the main character’s mother “Mary X.”
The surrealist novel is not often considered an easy read, and I think it’s safe to say you’re not going to find Marsupial on many “Beach Read” lists (not that White was aiming for that). But what White has created is a hybrid text that is as engrossing as it is strange. It’s like watching a dream unfold: an art which White is practiced at–his 2006 book, Poste Retante, is a type of dream log. Marsupial’s strangeness and beauty is as intriguing as any narrative question or plot tension.
In the end, White’s work certainly appeals to the reader of experimental fiction, but the author’s prowess as an artist makes Marsupial a piece for anyone who is interested in a narrator’s search for purpose and clarity in a world seemingly lacking both.