Carla Harryman’s W—/M— is a sociosexual swirl which surprises and deepens at every turn. It is a diptych with the aura of personal history and portraiture, but its principal gift is its capacity to conjure a world—a kind of no-place that runs asymptotically to our own. Harryman marbles her language with noirish liasons, childhood landscapes, sublunar detritus, and unruly narrative gestures. This is a driven, shrewd book full of mystery, invention, play, and pleasure.
Part memoir, part autobiography, and part paean to the late Detroit playwright and poet Ron Allen, W—/M— pits Mnemosyne against Minerva, stringing and unstringing the clothesline of childhood, the lunch lines of adolescence, and the assembly lines of southeastern Michigan. Harryman traces and retraces the line per se as nomadic consciousnesses multiplying beyond the doubles that mark, and thus engender, the self-patrolled borders of identities. At each turn Harryman burrows into the interstices between, among, the grammars that partition normative life from its estranged twin(s). Think of W—/M— as an ode to a thinking that outflanks the actual—and so, makes the actual the center from which all thinking radiates.
In this pair of wry, dark, brilliant books, we hear tell of domestic partnerships with a shifting array of W and M. Women and Men? Names multiply, genders reverse, and those initials, flipped, transform into one another. I suspect M could refer to the Market, which hovers everywhere, funneling itself through characters and settling at any opportunity into Mine. At one point the narrator declares that an artwork "supplements being while framing the subject as a caged thing." Characters are magic, says one narrator, because they are "mine," and control feels good. These speculatively anecdotal meditations on identity, agency, and artifice are witty, cagy, and provocative--Harryman at her best.