Friday, May 19, 2006

BOOK: Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic

Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic, translated by Alice Copple-Tosic
Published by Dalkey Archive Press, Eastern European Literature Series

The unnamed narrator of Zoran Zivkovic’s Hidden Camera, an aging undertaker, arrives home from work to find a blank envelope stuck in the jamb of his door. After much speculation, he opens the envelope to find a ticket to a movie house for a performance that begins within the half-hour. When his attempt to ignore the mysterious invitation fails, he grabs his coat and bolts out the door.

At the theater, an usher seats him directly next to the theater’s only other occupant, a beautiful woman, and the film begins: a short scene of the narrator himself, a few months earlier, sitting and reading on the park bench he visits daily, oblivious to the woman who shares his bench, the same woman who sits next to him in the theater. When the lights rise, the woman is gone, replaced by another mysterious envelope. The narrator, convinced he is the subject of a hidden camera show, plunges back into the night, following the trail of envelopes through fantastic situations and mounting paranoia.

Zivkovic’s writing is somehow spare and incredibly rich in imagery at the same time, as though adjectives would only sully the crisp fancies of his imagination. As the narrator moves from one orchestrated scene to the next, running themes quickly emerge. Purple flowers and childbirth and fish return to announce their intentionality. Zivkovic begins bending reality around the edges, allowing the absurd to seep in with a Calvino deadpan. Whether stunned or seduced, neither the narrator nor the reader cares, as long as the weird and wonderful visions continue.

But, at some point, it is exactly the weird and wonderful that breaks its own spell as the reader struggles to discern which details hold significance. Because this novel is from a cultural tradition not widely published in the US (Zivkovic is Serbian), there is an inevitable question: which of the seeming inconsistencies are narrative and which cross-cultural? Should we read each scene as weird, or just, you know, European?

The question of just what this novel is hangs unsatisfyingly unanswered in the end. The first chapter breaks from the narrator’s colorless description of his colorless existence into decisive and frantic action like a release of potential energy, but just as quickly thwarts this kinetic promise with meandering internal exposition worthy Nicholson Baker. The unreliable narrator at times creates too much distance, as he languishes under misconceptions of which the reader has been long since disabused or wallows in a paranoia that seems insufficient for the situation. And, the slide from absurd to fantastic imparts more significance to the narrative threads than is ever delivered. The ride is so beautiful, the destination almost doesn’t matter, but ultimately the whole amounts to less than the sum of its parts, an exotic confection that could have been much more.

Reviewed by Jim Jewell - 467 words



Post a Comment

<< Home