Jane Unrue, Atlassed, Triple Press, 2005
Jane Unrue's Atlassed has many of the characteristics of a short story sequence, but its carefully composed language recalls the prose poetry of Fred Wah or perhaps Lyn Hejinian. In a sense, Unrue reproduces the peripatetic urban roaming of Paterson or Leaves of Grass—except that the stomping grounds of her metropolitan flaneur is not the city, but the human body itself. The book is composed of a series of prose vignettes, some that are more or less narrative, and others that are more like stylistic improvisations, or prose poems that read like grab-bags of linguistic synergy. The result is both a mapping and an erotics of the body, as indicated by the evocative chapter headings (eg. "Brow and Chin Variations," or "Topmost Portion of the Forehead, a Common Omission"). These headings supply in large part the "unity" of this book, which attempts to nominally fasten these evocative if not necessarily transparent prose pieces to a conceptual map of the body which though present, hovers just beyond our comprehension.
Perhaps this in part explains the continual linkage between love and violence in Atlassed, since one of the questions this book repeatedly asks is whether there is "any sort of line dividing deep-felt pleasure from the icy horror of a white-hot violent encounter?" (110). And this is in a sense, the exact experience of reading Atlassed; it is full of sequences that are at once erotic and horrifying, others that are evocative and enigmatic. Moreover, Atlassed always creates the sense that a greater conceptual unity exists, and that we are doomed to desire it forever. In "Table, Heart, Breasts, Kidneys," Unrue suggests that even a family on a road trip may feel an unrequited desire for a map, to render the events of their life, their stubborn anomie in the face of absolutism, easier to comprehend:
The family knows that "mapping" is an impossibility, and that any attempt at its broad, totalizing vision will result in an image that is incomplete, disorienting. Unrue goes on to say that
In the end, the book is a sort of revelation in reverse—Unrue brings the veil of language between the reader and the illusion of realism, suggesting dark and frightening possibilities beyond our ken that are at the same time exhilarating. Like the "leafy vines" in "Passion (Asleep)," Atlassed "rocks you in the manner of the darkest pleasures you have yet encountered" (155). Reading Atlassed is at times mystifying; but in the end, its alchemic blend of imminent horror with immanent revelation and its apocalyptic mixture of mystery and desire, create a dark and evocative beauty that is both enigmatic and enlightening.