Reviews

Turning Someone Else’s Diary Into A New Story

A review of Kathryn Scanlan's new book, "Aug 9 - Fog."

There are some sentences, some images, some artifacts, that stick with us over time. These are different for every person, but something imperceptible causes them to lodge themselves in our minds, draws us to think those words over and over, recall the feelings that go with them. Still to this day, when I sit down to write something I think to myself, “Hunter ready to write,” a reference to Hunter S. Thompson’s infamous schedule. When my girlfriend and I are walking and see a flock of birds, we might say to each other, “They could be starlings,” a reference to Shane Carruth’s film Upstream Color.

With Aug 9 – Fog, Kathryn Scanlan has created something truly unique. As explained in a note preceding the text, the book is an arrangement of sentences pulled from a five-year diary Scanlan found at an estate sale. Unlike the title, the diary entries are not dated, so it’s unclear if they’re presented chronologically or in a different way. The entries are, however, grouped by season. Each page has a few sentences, often describing the weather or the writer’s surroundings. Sometimes the story roughly follows the lives of a rotating cast of characters.

The author of the diary remains anonymous, but there is a narrative here, a progression created from the arrangement of the sentences. Characters drift in and out of the entries like daydreams, and only a few are constant enough to show a progression. The writer seems to be an older woman, living in a small town in the Midwest. Her friends, the “characters” of the work, are often mentioned along with their maladies, or as having passed on. The sentences imply a simpler time, where the days stretch on forever, where the local community is its own universe, and the weather is the most breaking news.

The narrative itself isn’t really the point, though. Instead, Aug 9 – Fog stands as a radical celebration of the moment, the most intimate and personal, made universal. The opacity of its entries helps to convey unique meanings to each reader. For those that find the sentences resonant, the book serves as an artifact to return to over time, feel inspired by, or simply re-frame a way of thinking.

The writing style is sparse, more often than not grammatically incorrect, but deeply evocative in its minimalism. In the preceding note, Scanlan makes reference to a few of the sentences that beckoned to her, such as “flowers coming fast,” or “everything loose is traveling.” As Scanlan predicted, several of the book’s lines have taken root in my mind, and I’ve found myself thinking occasionally in the diarist’s rhythms and syntax: “Sure pretty out. Sure grand out.”

The sentences manage to be heartbreaking at times, and empathetic. “Dr. says it’s a general breaking up of his body;” “Otherwise I am weak.”

The writing is poetic, so sparse to be abstract. Some entries are a single sentence long, or even less (one entry reads simply, “New neighbors,” a story just waiting to burst forth). Scanlan’s work in curation, arrangement, and construction of the entries is marvelous. She’s managed to find the perfect balance between maintaining enough of a through-line to suggest continuity, while removing enough to give space for the reader’s imagination. It’s at once a work of addition and subtraction, a masterclass in composition.

I once had a music instructor tell me, “The music is the silence between the sounds”, and in no piece of writing has that rang more true than Aug 9 – Fog. Each entry is a world to itself, and I’m certain you could write a complete novel just from a single entry. That nuance just below the surface only leads each page to stand stronger by itself, and as a whole. I suspect not everyone will fall in love with Aug 9 – Fog, but those that do will be discovering a book that lingers long after reading.

FICTION
Aug 9 – Fog
By Kathryn Scanlan
MCD
Published June 4, 2019

3 comments on “Turning Someone Else’s Diary Into A New Story

  1. STOP

    Get Outlook for Android

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    Like

  2. Sallie D

    Why does it feel like this shouldn’t be allowed? Someone potentially profiting off of someone else’s life story, without their consent.

    Like

  3. Danica Holly

    I enjoy reading your very informative review. Thank you.

    Like

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