Barbara Browning came to life before me on a chilly gray Sunday, as I lay under the bedsheets, dressed in wool for warmth. I’d just finished Sheila Heti’s How Should A Be?, a book that left me feeling a little bit empty and angry. I was in the mood to read more, it was a day made for reading, and so I followed it with Tove Jansson’s Fair Play, a book about artists and writers performing their art on the pages, through video and film.Read more.
I’m Trying To Reach You
On the day of Michael Jackson’s death, former dancer and current half-assed NYU dance scholar Gray Adams finds himself sad, alone, and bored late at night in a Zagreb hotel with only the Internet for comfort. Two hours after first entering “Michael Jackson” into YouTube’s search bar, he stumbles across a mysterious video of a dancer who seems to be trying to communicate with him, specifically – “a message in a bottle” that he can’t quite decipher. A series of bizarre, cryptic comments only deepens the mystery.
Over the course of the next few months, Gray revises his postdoctoral thesis, makes ends meet on his stipend, does his barre exercises, and cares for his long-distance, chronically ill boyfriend Sven – all the while alert to the moments when the dancer posts new videos, which lend a sheen of the uncanny to his life. Her posts, he soon notices, coincide with the deaths of cultural heroes like Pina Bausch and Les Paul. As the comments take a macabre turn, foreshadowing deaths to come, Gray – aware that he’s being absurd – starts to suspect that one of the commenters he’s been following is plotting the deaths of these elderly, ailing art stars. To get to the bottom of these – murders?! – he’ll have to take his thesis in an unexpected direction, and enlist the help of other misfits who lurk on the fringes of the city’s cultural elite.
Barbara Browning’s second novel is hilarious and poignant, erudite but also miraculously down-to-earth. We never wanted it to end, and in a way, it never does — the mysterious videos exist, and are all on YouTube.