Among the great draws of this year’s DLF is the auspicious presence of an absurdist fiction writer. Meet Jesse Ball who’s emerged as a fresh voice in fictional narrative as well as poetry. He’s been regarded as a leading American novelist for his works Samedi the Deafness, The Way Through Doors, Silence Once Begun and A Cure for Suicide.
Ball explores one of the most challenging topics of absurdist fiction – suicide, in his debut novel, Samedi the Deafness. He creates his own experiment house called “verysylum,” an asylum for chronic liars where they “teach the dishonesty of truth and truth about dishonesty.” The plot reads like a thriller: A mnemonist named James Sim seems to work surreptitiously as a detective, who stumbles upon a murdered man who, before his death, utters a string of clues about a conspiracy led by someone named Samedi. A spellbinding game of cat and mouse follows and the reader is riddled with many ontological questions about right and wrong.
Ball’s narrative mastery excels in his fourth novel, Silence Once Begun. It’s a devastating portrayal of a justice system compromised, the one we see in Camus’s The Stranger. The plot revolves round the disappearance of eight people in a Japanese town. Like manna coming down from the sky miraculously, the authority discovers a confession at their doorstep by a thread salesman named Oda Sotatsu. Sotatsu is nabbed, detained and interrogated, but refuses to speak further. From the readers’ side, the book reveals how we go to absurd lengths to prove ourselves reasonable whereas it is impossible to see things while we are still searching.
In A Cure for Suicide, Ball portrays an experience somewhat similar to Roquentin’s in Sartre’s Nausea, where we see how the inanimate objects such as chair, table and furniture encroach on our psyche and sometimes even define ourselves. The novel opens up in an unfamiliar house where an unnamed man called the Claimant lives with another unnamed woman called the Examiner. They engage in a semi–dialectic method described as “the Process” to bring the unnamed man back to life. The unnamed woman teaches him the names of objects in the house and the world outside: What is a photograph or a painting? What is imagination? Are there similar people like him? Through this “Process” a new world emerges where we learn how we create and assign values to our world.
Ball’s metaphysical world always reconstructs everything from beginning, making us aware of the time, place and political landscape we live in and introducing our stranger, alien selves we try to hide pretentiously.
Mir Arif is a fiction writer. He works with Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.