Chiasmus Press is already pimping its publication of R.M. Berry’s forthcoming novel Frank, and obviously with good reason. For starters, this conversation between Berry and Lidia Yuknavitch sets the bar pretty high:
YUKNAVITCH: The distribution of race, class, notions of otherness and geography mapped out in FRANK suggests you understand these categories as dislocatable/relocatable in terms of signification (not unlike words). put slightly differently, I get that great “what if” feeling when reading FRANK . . . like “what could happen” if we dislocated the old stories and relocated them elsewhere and differently. Do you mean to be making this kind of claim about language, definitions, and identity as well?
The importance of the inevitability of FRANK, the sense that Shelley’s plot has the power of fate, the power of inescapability, is that it reveals an interconnectedness of racism and misogyny and class violence within the (male?) desire to create a life for oneself. Obviously, in FRANK this desire is what a novel must satisfy.
What I want the reader to feel is that the violence in the book is simultaneously interconnected, each part leading to and entailing the next in a vast network or social matrix, and also that it’s wholly contrived, arbitrary, without any necessity at all—almost as though somebody had willfully taken some other story and plopped it down on this one. I don’t imagine that this plot explain every form of monstrousness today, but I do think it explains a very old, very widespread one. For example, I think it explains the monstrousness in the Whitehouse.
There’s something more to be said. I don’t think Shelley is blameless. If my aim is to acknowledge my containment within her story, I must do that by acknowledging, not only my wish for her creation, my place in the story of male parthenogenesis, but also what Shelley herself avoided in captivating me. There’s something she could not have told and still have told FRANKENSTEIN. The plot she created, the one in which I’m a captive, is the one in which Victor Frankenstein makes the creature. It was that plot, by which I mean the one in which a man invents a life (I hadn’t read Shelley yet), which over three decades ago first drew me to the idea of becoming a novelist. The plot that frees me from her, hence frees others from FRANK, is the one in which I acknowledge the limits of that plot, that is, the limits of any man’s power to reproduce himself. That liberating story is the one in which the misogyny, racism, and class division in FRANK appear contrived, not inevitable. It begins with the acknowledgment—but how is this to be done?—that I’m the one creating this violence, that I’m the one who desires to reproduce Shelley’s plot, tell this old story. Unfortunately, acknowledging my hand in violence is not the same thing as telling a story in which I have a hand in violence. Or if so, I’d have to tell another story to acknowledge my hand in that one, and the violence would never end.
Acknowledging the words, their capacity to move independently of me, of my desires, reveals the arbitrariness of the plot. This is a way of saying: Mary Shelley created the monster too.