by Pablo D’Stair
Reviewed by David Blaine
Published 2009 by Brown Paper Publishing
152 pp, paperback, $6.95 U.S.
This novel is the paranoid screed of its psychotic first person narrator, Kaspar Traulhaine.
As the story opens the protagonist notices that someone is watching him. That observer turns out to be Montgomery Fent, Kaspar’s antagonist, and in the full classic sense of that word, not just the literary.
D’Stair goes to great lengths to keep his setting generic. He never relates a proper place name. In the course of the book he mentions locations such as, “a franchise restaurant,” or “a fast food restaurant,” or “a generic department store.” The story is set in a city large enough to have subways and metro stations. I got the feeling that this was a North American city because it mentioned dollars, drug stores and elevators, not Euros, chemists or lifts. This sense was challenged though, with occasional spellings that were contrary to U.S. English, such as “programme,” “odours,” and “ice crème.” and also with the mention of a “take away” restaurant. But in the story’s last few pages I came to believe that this city was situated in the United States, as an arrest is made and the police ask if the apprehended person understands his rights.
The first person point of view works well, showing us the disability oppressing the narrator. The trouble with this though, is that after a short while one realizes the narrator is not the least bit reliable. The reader is trying to assemble facts in his mind with information provided by only one party, and that party is suffering extreme mental defect. Early on Kaspar admits to killing someone, and Montgomery tortures him by announcing that in three days, he will turn Kaspar in. But after a bit more reading, it becomes logical to doubt that Kaspar even knows whether he really killed anyone or not, whether Montgomery exists, or if he could even be another personality of the narrator.
The actual monologue is amazing. D’Stair writes like a poet, sometimes using words and phrases outside their denotation. Consider,
“I looked at him, obese, exhausted from his day, hair two licks of
glaze over his blotchy forehead.”
“I took the last of my wine in a series of chokes.”
“As I walked, I slouched through my options.”
And sometimes the phrasing is most poetic, such as this line where Kaspar tells us his ears were, “buzzing with a rattle like coins spun underwater.”
In a few places D’Stair conjures up a word of his own device, such as, “…the shumble of his steps.” or “the thack of blood in my ears sounding like feet up the steps.”
At other points the author uses his pen to help the reader conjure the physical anguish this paranoid character is enduring. This line made me wonder what it would be like to read the story while suffering stomach flu,
“My stomach gurgled viciously, an insistence of grime tapping to be
defecated, a sour breath lifting from my gut out in a whispered belch,
my eyes stinging from the paste of sweat that had been settling on my
With writing this graphic, it isn’t surprising that D’Stair uses actual profanity quite minimally. I don’t think I came across five words that would be censored by American television.
But the indeterminacies in these pages are many. Often the narrator states things as “obvious,” or “positive,” when they do not appear so to me, and I keep feeling that perhaps I’ve missed something. This does hammer home the paranoid effect, but it also leads to another distraction, wondering if Kaspar is also schizophrenic, still wondering if he and his antagonist are one or two.
As you read the interaction between Kaspar and Montgomery you begin to weigh and judge the acts of each. This story not only shows the workings of a paranoid mind, but of the interaction between two people suffering different diseases, as Fent is certainly shown to be a sadistic animal. As I read I kept juggling two or three possible outcomes, hoping to be totally surprised at the ending. As it turns out, I found the conclusion rather anti-climactic, and many unresolved questions still hung over my head after a second reading.
Learn more about Pablo D’Stair at his blog at http://www.ktapproximate.blogspot.com/. Free copies of Kaspar Traulhaine, approximate are available by e-mailing a request to Pablo at firstname.lastname@example.org
David Blaine edits at the Outsider Writers Collective. His third book of poetry, Antisocial, was published in 2009 by Outsider Writers Press.