:: Article

Flesh Objects: On John Trefry’s Apparitions of the Living

By Mike Corrao.

John Trefry, Apparitions of the Living (Inside the Castle, 2019)

You have before you / a work in the expanded field of literature / John Trefry’s Apparitions of the Living / a text constructed as if it was an object / with the knowledge that it is an object / margins grow and shrink / prose condensed into a central column / then stretched across the page / inhaling and exhaling / shifting perspectives / typeset in the digital successor to the Palatino of Robbe-Grillet’s Topology of a Phantom City / “to which this work is indentured” / a text with physical attributes that cannot be ignored / that lays on the table in front of you / that is read and that knows it is being read //

The environment is reduced into its components / Trefry maps the landscape / materializes the mise-en-scene / assembles each body / moves each newly-constructed limb / rendering the inanimate animate / and vice versa / “material pain lingers, the lure of binding blood and rehydration, the pulse of fluid seeping…” / Apparitions of the Living is a novel of descriptions / made with the understanding that text must be created / that pages must be treated in ink / imbued with language / that this language is the material of our construction / each environment / each moment / meticulously assembled / its components formed and incorporated into the larger collage / the landscape becomes mystical / the movement of our literary body is geomantic / shifting in ways that are difficult to understand / but that appear true in their grotesque mien / often confining us in tight corridors / a column of text running down the center of the page / empty space breathing on either side / only to then open / spread thin / sinking into a new frame and rhythm / “You fought the coriolis rotations of your layered clothing…” / the reader becomes aware of their physical body / hovering over the page as their eyes move along the line / no longer sutured to the diegesis //

This novel’s not easy to describe / narratives are spectral / there is a man and a boy and a Connie / a body is broken down and reassembled / voices converse / “The rays stitch’d him into the shamble of hot black dust grinding, of an accumulation echo’d in dust prints.” / there is a motel / there is bricabrac / there is sand / there is cataplasm / but it’s hard to say what they are doing / what they have done / what they will do / the reader enters this space / engages the text / is pulled through each page / until the book is over / I read Apparitions of the Living in one day / started in the morning expecting to only read for an hour or two / but could not stop / read through lunch and into the late afternoon / and now a week or so later cannot say exactly what this book is narratively about / but I can say that there are images stained in my mind / “wispy strewn placenta” / “orange eczematous sediment” / “white outlines fusing to her flesh” / narrative elements become dream-like / they rise out of memory / acting with faint detail and explanation / while reading it’s easy to dissociate / to drift into this strange state / to be carried by the rhythm of the prose / to inhabit this abstract space in your mind //

The body is revealed for its components / there is no whole / there is never a generalization / never a placeholder / each organ and limb and bone and fluid represents itself / “His cheeks sink and tongue ferrets through black mustache in lubricated reconnaissance.” / the body is rearranged into an architectural construct / it does not exist without first being assembled / and after its assembly the organism is not always stable / flesh is poor material for building / prone to falling apart / each new iteration fragile and weak / under constant maintenance / byproducts drip from various orifices / smaller organisms grow in the moist pockets of skin / every component is autonomous / Trefry reveals the body as another part of the larger landscape / another inhabiting object to be detailed / itself a part of some larger collection / as of yet unidentified / but nonetheless looming and present //

“O, child, you are experiencing a house falling down.” / in isolation, the novel’s prose appears occult and ritualistic / there’s a procedure that guides these practices / methods that construct this kind of literature / but I am not sure what / Trefry’s position in the text feels akin to some kind of arcane technician / arranging prosaic elements on the ceremonial altar / constructing a naos for a resurrected yet still unknown creature / Apparitions of the Living is a sacrifice made in offer to the immortal Alain Robbe-Grillet / a writer whose work I have yet to read / but whose image lingers nonetheless / the name itself imbued with a mysterious aura / “Clicking shut the doors click shut clicking tongues in pursed lips.” / Apparitions of the Living is dense and descriptive / blooming with detailed language / faint memories and disembodied voices / newly-formed landscapes / construction and eventual destruction //

Approach the novel / interact with the text-object / treat it as if it really does exist //


Mike Corrao is the author of Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing, 2018) and Gut Text (11:11 Press, 2019). His work has been featured in publications such as Entropy, Always Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis where he earned his B.A. in film and English literature at the University of Minnesota. Learn more at www.mikecorrao.com

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, January 7th, 2019.