“An awe-inspiring tour de force, a circuitous thanatopsis, a maze that constantly reiterates its structure until everything it contains is subsumed within a new ulterior obfuscation. McCartney not only shows us that death is a language unto itself, but also provides us with a dictionary with which to parse it.” —Mark Gluth, author of No Other
“Engrossing and reverent, The Disintegrations strangles death. A philosophy of the concrete and a reckoning of the ethereal, this novel dreams of all that has become lost in a world of remainders. We who remain may not find relief, but it leaves us dazzled and astonished and brutally satisfied with a gratitude for living.” —Lily Hoang, author of A Bestiary
“I know nothing about death, absolutely nothing,” asserts the narrator of this inventive autobiographical novel. Yet he can’t stop thinking about it. Detached from life in Los Angeles and his past in Australia, uncomfortable around other humans, he researches death on the Internet, mulls over distant and intimate stories of suicides, serial killers, and “natural deaths,” and wanders about LA’s Holy Cross Cemetery. He’s looking for answers, all the while formulating his own disquieting philosophies. Within this dizzying investigation into the mystery of death is another mystery: who is the companion igniting these memories? This enigmatic novel blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, story and eulogy, poetry and obituary. Wry yet somber, astringent yet tender, The Disintegrations confronts the impossibility of understanding death and the timeless longing for immortality.
“A book that takes possession of you right from the opening and will not let you go. Challenging and gripping, a rumination on death and memory that speaks eloquently to our sense of loss, both personal and communal. The writing is exquisite. In the best possible sense, I know this book will haunt me for the longest time.” –Christos Tsiolkas, author of Barracuda
“An uncanny and mesmerizing study of the dread and terror in contemplating death as both remembrance and disappearance, and an intimate reveal of how our fears of erasure are a ghostly double for our awe at being alive.” —Manuel Muñoz, author of What You See in the Dark
“In this long-awaited second novel, a narrator’s fascination with the geography of a nearby cemetery becomes a map of the losses and disappearances which have defined his own life. As he sorts through half-memories of deaths both notorious and obscure, a composite emerges of violent light and seductive shadow, a Book of the Dead –and a Book of California.” –Joyelle McSweeney, author of Dead Youth, or, The Leaks
Alistair McCartney is the author of The End of the World Book, a finalist for the PEN USA Literary Award in Fiction and the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White debut fiction award. His writing has appeared in 3AM, Animal Shelter, Fence, 1913, Gertrude, Lies/Isles and other journals. He teaches fiction in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles, and oversees their undergraduate creative writing concentration. Born in Australia, he lives in Venice, California.
Inspirations for The Disintegrations:
Robert Bresson’s Le Diable Probablement
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives
Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of A Dreamer
Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma
Robert Bresson’s Diary of A Country Priest
Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows
Jean Rollin’s The Iron Rose
Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye
Rimbaud’s The Illuminations
Blanchot’s Death Sentence
Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer
Sontag on Bresson
Bresson on Bresson
Dostoyevsky’s White Nights
Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm
Costica Ascinte’s photographs
Alice Neel’s Portraits
Marlene Dumas’s Measuring Your Own Grave
Elizabeth Bishop’s Tombstones for Sale
David Dupuis’ In The Potters Ground
El Greco’s View of Toledo
The Devil’s Hole
Coffin Trick by Atlas Sound
Marquee Moon by Television
Brando by Scott Walker + Sunn O))) + Gisele Vienne
Spread your Bloody Wings by Smog
Black Angel’s Death Song by The Velvet Underground
All the People I like are Those that are dead by Felt
Into Distance by Var
Eulogy to Lenny Bruce by Nico
Les Voyages De L’Âme By Alcest
When People are dead by The Gobetweens
Jackie by Iceage
Your Ghost by Kristin Hersh
Til’ I die by the Beach Boys
Killer by Salem
Attic Lights by Atlas Sound
Artifacts and Clippings:
Cemetery Map Side A
Cemetery Map Side B
The California Section of the LA Times
Book 1, Book 2, Book 3
Alistair McCartney will be reading from and discussing The Disintegrations at Skylight Bookstore in Silverlake, Saturday September 16th, 500pm. In New York he’ll read from it in the Dixon Place Lounge, Saturday October 21st, 900pm. Back in LA, he’ll read at Antioch University in Culver City, Tuesday November 7th, 630 pm.
Links to Some Other Things:
Excerpt in 3:AM magazine: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/my-coffin/
Thoughts on the Music that Inspired The Disintegrations: http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2017/08/book_notes_alis_1.html
The Dancing Corpse of Jill Yip
A corpse is a dead body, usually human. Though in Middle
English it just meant body, human or animal, alive or dead.
I’ve only laid eyes on one corpse. The corpse of Jill Yip. Jill was a dancer. A dancer is someone whose body moves.
Jill’s body stopped working. She died from an intestinal obstruction. This is when an abnormality blocks the intestines and the digestive system stops functioning and then everything breaks down. You can see X-rays of this condition on the Internet. There is a soft and hazy quality to the images: the bones, the dilated loops of bowel, the obstructions in question.
From what I heard, Jill had been experiencing pain, cramps, spasms. She thought the pain would pass. She went to the emergency room, near her apartment in Alhambra. They didn’t x-ray her. They must have been busy that night. They looked her over and gave her some pills and then sent her back home.
—-I imagine Jill tried to get some sleep. The pain woke her up; it will pass, it always does. But this was a new form of pain and she sensed something was wrong as her body went . . . haywire.
I believe Jill’s roommate was out at the time but was the one who later discovered her corpse.
There was some speculation that the harsh discipline of dancing had led to Jill’s death. One of the definitions of dance is to bring to a particular state or condition by dancing; e.g., she danced herself to exhaustion. Dancing is hard on bodies and on the internal organs. Dance forces the body to do things it isn’t necessarily designed to do.
I’m increasingly aware that death forces language to do things it was not designed to do. Language breaks down; it experiences cramps, spasms.
I saw Jill dance a handful of times. She danced with a company, but once I saw her perform a solo. Her only solo. I think it was called Pirate Dance. It was one of those dances with talking; Jill talked as she, her body, moved. She told a story about her past. A story is a series of sentences that move.
—-When Jill was a small girl, her family fled Vietnam on a boat. The journey was long and arduous. Pirates came on board and raped the women and children, threw some men overboard, left them to drown or to be eaten by sharks. Jill had to drink seawater. You could tell she was leaving all sorts of things out.
—-For the performance, Jill wore a pirate’s hat made out of newspaper. She wore a black eye patch, a belt around her waist, with a silver plastic pirate’s knife in a gold plastic scabbard: a child’s Halloween costume. She said the men who came on board wore fake paper hats, like they were pretending to be pirates, but that everything they did was real.
Jill and her family survived the journey and reached America.
—–At school, Jill said, wielding her fake knife at members of the audience, when my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her I want to be a pirate.
—-The dance ended with Jill intoning these lines again and again: I want to be a pirate. I want to commit atrocities. I did not succumb to the pirates. I escaped them.
I have no memory of the actual dance, the steps, the gestures, and even if I did, I would be unable to explain it to you, because it’s my belief, a belief that borders on the category of the spiritual, that the body moves outside of language.
—-There was no music, I can say that. Sometimes Jill would stop talking and dance silently, with a delicate and controlled violence. She would start to talk about what happened to her on that ship, but her words would sort of . . . drift off, and she would replace them with the ragged sound of her breathing and the clomping sound made by her feet.
When I learned of Jill’s death—Tim told me, one of the other dancers in her company had called him, he came into the kitchen to convey the news—it struck me as very . . . unjust.
—-What bothered me was not that Jill was twenty-nine, a month or two older than me, not even the hospital’s oversight, but the manner of death. Jill had overcome all those dangers as a child, made herself sick from salt water, come all this way, only to die . . . like this.
—-Somehow, I thought, staring at our kitchen walls, which are a bright Mexican blue, it would have been better to die at the hands of those pirates.
—-Jill’s cool, clipped voice ran through my head: I did not succumb to the pirates. I escaped them.
Jill Yip’s corpse was situated in a funeral parlor in Alhambra. Tim and I drove out there with our friends Danielle and Tre. Danielle’s a redhead; Tre has jet black hair. Though apart from Jill, who cares what any of us look like.
—-We all dressed in dark colors. The car was cramped and the day was warm and dusty.
—-The funeral parlor was on a street lined with factories—bed manufacturers, primarily—and other funeral parlors. A funeral parlor is a kind of factory; it makes death on a mass scale, through a process of maintaining. A parlor with a crematorium is also a factory, one that doesn’t produce anything but destroys things.
—-Yet reducing a body down to an urnful of ash—you’re still making something.
From The Disintegrations: A Novel by Alistair McCartney. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2017 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
p.s. Hey. This weekend is a joyous occasion for the blog because it gets to help usher the new novel by the incredible writer Alistair McCarney into visibility. Alistair has kindly put together a very entertaining and telling post to help the blog maximize its hosting duties, and you have a wonderful couple of days ahead of you. As always, please inflect your comments with your thoughts about what you’ve seen and read up above and share them with with Alistair. Thank you. And thanks so much, A., for the great pleasure and honor! ** Armando, Hi. Cool, sweet dreams. Oh, thanks for the note. Everyone, just a late breaking but important note that Armando’s album is rather only available at discount until September 12, and the codeword is ulalume. Thanks, man. ** Steve Erickson, Hey. Well, we’re hoping to avoid an all-nighter before the Sundance deadline, but I would imagine we’ll end up having one. I think maybe a case could be made that Perry’s girl-power message, as simplistic as it may be, could have more of an impact than it might seem, especially on her youngest fans. Sometimes a powerful inspiration can be or seem quite slight at the source. I don’t think ‘cultural appropriation’ is the black and white thing that it’s so currently trendy to knee-jerk generalize about and demonize. Hm, I’d be curious to see that Novo documentary. I’ll look for it. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! Really nice to see you! Oh wow, if I had found that GIF you used, I would definitely have grabbed and employed it. Nice one. Thank you so much for the good words and thoughts about the GIF stack. That’s so nice to hear. How are you? What’s currently going on? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Well, I certainly will be excited if they accept the film. I’m assuming the chances aren’t that great, but hey, you never know. Yes, the subtitles are now in place. This weekend will be all about creating the titles and end credits, and apparently we have to put together a ‘package’ for the Sundance submission: logline, synopsis, statement of intent (ugh), etc. Lots to do. Ha ha, yes, those mysterious ‘moments’. I hope you have a whole batch of them this weekend. The trip will be worth it, for sure, but I totally understand the anxiety. Anxiety is the worst and a very tough opponent. The sound editor meeting went very well, yes. He’s prepared, and we’re close to being prepared, and we start work at 10 am on Tuesday. Oh, sad that Anita is going away. Denmark is awesome. I loved it when I was there. Where is the hostel? One more long, anxiety-provoking trip to visit her for you to steel yourself for maybe? Have a very lovely weekend, and let me know how it all went. ** Chris dankland, Hi! Ha ha, I kind of think it’s safe to say that fidget spinners are just dumb, addictive fun, but … I think I’ve said this here before but apparently I’m an extremely good candidate for hypnosis. When I was a teenager, it was a common thing for one of my friends to hypnotize me for everyone’s entertainment when we got bored. I’m really glad you’ve gotten your mind reattached to your writing and projects. God, it’s just so serious there. It really feels from the outside like a completely unprecedented disaster, so huge and complicated that it’s hard to imagine how long and what it will take to return any sense of normal life there. I’m so glad you’re okay, and it’s obviously really great that you’re doing what you can to help others. ** Jamie, Jamie! Man, it’s great to see you! I’ve been concerned about you as you can well imagine. Oh, yeah, everything has been okay here. I’m fully thrown into the film work. I’m awfully glad that your health is upswinging. And, yes, I want to help celebrate Hannah’s birthday and see you as soon as you guys can sort out when. My address … I’ll mail it to you. Gosh, thank you, man. You could also just wait and give it to me if that adds incentive to your plans to return. Stay in bed if bed is the answer, man. Give your body all the time it needs, okay? My weekend will involve a bunch of film stuff, and it should be very occupied and hopefully a success. Take incredibly good care! May Bambi show up at your door this weekend with a skyscraper of French pastries on her back. Even more optimistic love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, Ha, what were the odds. I’m very glad the roundabout venture was a success, and that your arm did the right thing and cooperated. Framed, awesome! That’s a gorgeous work. Photo, yes. Cool about your involvement in the Sophie Lisa Beresford show. She’s terrific. Why do you think your involvement will entail? ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Ha ha, great that my statement made it through. Cookout, cool. No, I wasn’t into superheroes at all. I never read comic books as a kid, and that’s basically the only place they lived back then. Well, I did like the 60s ‘Batman’ show, I used to watch reruns of the old ‘Superman’ show. No, I don’t have any interest in or feeling for superheroes at all. I end up watching the movies and sometimes they charm me a little, but it’s just like looking at particularly entertaining aquariums or something. ** James Nulick, Hi, James! Good to see you, buddy boy. Huh, you’re the second person to spin possible conspiracy theories about fidget spinners. What a strange world were living in at the moment. Yes, we’re at the end credits, but they’re not the end. We need to do them now because the sound work, which will be the last thing other than making a trailer and the poster and stuff, will be too consuming to allow for other work. Sundance taking the movie would be cool, yes. It’s a crapshoot. Well, if that happened, I would certainly imagine Zac and I would attend, and hopefully we would be invited to on their dime even. My favorite Duvert is ‘Strange Landscape’. Have a weekend of creative exploding and general excellence. ** Okay. Please return your faculties to exploring and pondering and purchasing and (and so on) Alistair’s book, which, having read it, I can absolutely assure you is really great. See you on Monday.