:: Article

Post Void Dribbling: On Rebecca Gransden’s Sea of Glass

By David Kuhnlein.

Rebecca Gransden, Sea of Glass (Cardboard Wall Empire, 2019)

“Ja, aus der Welt warden wir nicht fallen.” (From the world we will not fall.)
Christian Grabbe, Hannibal

Any decent small-press-to-self-published book ascends the ladder of its own middle finger and drops off the side of the big five—a teen-like endeavor against our pretentiously parented world. Hidden behind that eyeliner might be the economic angst to come, an encryption of ink on taut flesh swaying illegibly. Rebecca Gransden’s debut novella, Sea of Glass, cannibalizes its code, wrist-deep within hoary circumferences. A good puppeteer knows where to stab her nails home. The Hydra’s undercarriage tows the underworld along, dragging up bodies. She writes the kind of formication that keeps the skin from sagging, soil printed beneath an itch, immunizing an audience against nothing, magnetized beyond destination, each expression propped up by mandibles. Kattar—our protagonist—is an indecisive cyborg zipped inside William Burroughs’s Soft Machine. Jism is stuck in the throat, proximal gulping kin to the noose. The plot never stops swallowing. Kattar doesn’t have any sexual thoughts, but “he’d kill for something to quench his thirst”.

Ouspensky, in In Search of the Miraculous, brooms through Gurdjieff’s bushy mustache. Gurdjieff lectures on willpower: true, with practice, a person can control their animal impulses, but the reverse is much more likely: the intellect is waxed and twirled by the desires of one’s inner-beast. Kattar is the beast within the beast. He exists not only as a character, but a whim. Not many clues are given as to what he looks like, so he takes on blank shapes, a somatic focal point within the text, a school of himself fished out of the air, the Magic Eye bewitched. The reader is needled into an undone future, saliva swished before it’s spit, a distilled loogie clouding brown, sputum too matte to reflect. Kattar wears frames without lenses, then gives them away.

Gransden says her prose isn’t intentionally associated with music, but she installs earworms just the same. The space between chapters flexes between Coil’s dark, sonic-jawbone Horse Rotorvator and Daevid Allen’s theatrical, glam Banana Moon. Kattar’s twinned phonemic, catarrh sharing an exit. “All I Want is Out of Here,” is the swirling hook of track 3 off Banana Moon. The body as a repulsive concept. We’re perpetually aware because the pain becomes chronic. Describing Horse Rotorvator, John Balance (of Coil) said he had a vision “of this mechanical / flesh thing that ploughed up the earth…a real horrible, burning, dripping…earth-moving machine” which viscerally anticipates Sea of Glass. When literature correctly strives to be gonorrhea of the throat, each book should burn till the chords melt. Sidewalk chalk in a storm as your magnum opus, an erasure more meaningful than birth. A little dribble in the void never killed anybody. The novella seeps from ileum to Iliad. Cavities keep congested with mythic creatures and quests. Gransden makes sport of woe, taking the escalator to every island in Homer’s Odyssey. Do we imagine the world being self-contained, like an organism? Gransden’s “polished granite” skyscraper functions this way, clinging to its congestion.

Finger bent toward wafer moons, Kattar tries explaining that he’s a loyal myrmidon, a crunchy morsel for the shiny rock in the sky, but we have to crick our necks to notice. Full-bodied plots produce enough friction to whittle themselves away, pockmarks puttied over. Endless simulations abound, blood fed back to each cough in the circuitry. Kattar is the “cleaner for the building” in a janitorial wet dream. Floors lick themselves clean. A towel hardens around his hunched body. His palms curl into metal bowls to catch each clanging kidney stone. Each one passes in an arch, like sheep chucked over a fence to inspire nightmares on purpose. We’ve been failing to rewild ever since the discovery of soap. Gransden soils Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator into a “timber scented…humble outhouse”. In the finale, Kattar steps out onto a glass sea, looking down on the city where “everything is cushion, anodyne and reflection. Nothing will ever be new.” Pollution extends beyond the structure. Choking, like good artists, we reach our limit, skeletons tricking the pathway of absorption until flesh sloughs off, with Hellraiser special effects. Crawling off the bottom of each page, we return to earth. Demons tend to vacation in the organ of some host. Like Kattar, we’re not just habitable, but a popular destination.

We’re painfully aware of everyone’s procumbent plume, fitted with enough sneezes, coughs, and expulsions that nothing feels contained. The “throat creature” to Kattar is what Gransden is to us—our (more attractive) Virgil. “The throat creature cried and whined, fleshy gurgles as its trachea filled with viscous spittle, pushed against the roof of the mouth…A sickly glow called from deep within.” Limbs refurbish their interiors with exteriors and vise-versa. The bronchitic amount of sputum on display leaves behind ample portions of protein to live on. From the world we will not fall—Christian Grabbe’s character is responding to the potential suicide of a friend. In other words, death is no exit. But perhaps sedation, balanced on the ceiling of hell, in a cloudlike sea above the city, will be a brief reprieve for Kattar before he’s hurled back toward “a brighter light beckon[ing] him forwards, to a pulsating circular opening up ahead…in a flurry of gastric juices, to splatter onto a quivering and squelchy floor.” Kattar enters his own body from the rear in a perpetual drone. The third person narrator has unzipped their pants, two fingers curled like quotes. If we wheeze, it’s to disguise a moan.

Inspiration this solid can be so painfully good you have to time each inhalation. The digital umbilical strangle sticks us all back in, fingers thickening to flute the battery inside, playing through the drain. Gransden speaks directly to her puppet: “Grind your teeth on the taste Kattar.” And then, perhaps, to us: “Your anatomy speaks here, in the crack.” Whenever I peeked inside the laptop to binge, another layer of filth scrubbed my tongue to a nub. If I could swallow antibacterial soap without dying, I would. The mind cannot unhouse itself via conception alone. No matter how much fungal scraping is accomplished, the fingernails thrush up, pores spilling. I’m reminded of an old old joke: the new guy in hell, guided by the Devil through different torture chambers, gets to choose which one he’ll live in eternally. There’s the dungeon of flagellation, the chamber of chains and whips, and, finally, a large group of people standing knee-deep in sewage. Fearing physical pain, he picks sewage, wading into the pungent pool, somewhat relieved. Not ten seconds go by before the Devil checks his watch and says: “Okay, coffee break’s over, back on your heads!” Sea of Glass is great art because it reminds you your coffee break is over.

David Kuhnlein‘s work is featured or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Entropy, Expat Press, Juked, Social Text Online, and others. He edits the literary review column Torment, venerating illness and pain, at The Quarterless Review. He lives in Michigan.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 16th, 2020.