The Local Voice

Book Review by Conor Hultman: “Standish Blue” by Cole Phillips


Standish Blue
by Cole Phillips
Ghost City Press ($10)

We have come to realize that a place can have as much character as a person. From Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” to Larkin’s “Home is so Sad,” the walls and windows we live in have been painted up to look like us. Standish Blue continues the tradition of seeing faces into our rooms, and it does it in grand style.

The narrator and their partner, Birdie, are working on homes. There is a motif of loss, revealed in cryptic flashes and changes in tense. But the lead actor here is the stage. Many of the twelve chapters that make up Standish Blue begin with setting:

“The camera wasn’t in the bathroom.”

“Birdie said to me, Let’s make this a place we want to come to because cooking sucks.”

“I was supposed to be taking pictures of the rooms of the house because The Woman kept telling me we needed pictures of every room, but I hadn’t been able to find the camera.”

“It’s too small to be the living room.”

This mundane quality of domesticity shapeshifts for different effects: quietude, romance, and an enhancement for tragedy. Objects are laden with a haiku-like presence, e.g. “the almost-empty can you could see the ribs inside of.” Ditto for fixtures of the house, e.g. “There were scrapes along the floor with tiny coils of wood running alongside them where the bed used to be.”

The authorial voice of Standish Blue is consequently more self-assured and pleasurable than many comparable contemporary novels. There is nothing here so blatant as a metaphor; descriptions and actions stand for themselves, the story is just that, a sequence of actions and scenes between two characters, and the reader is allowed to draw it all in with minimum intrusion. It’s like a painting; it’s there, the beauty of it is evident and contained, and the only point is to see it. There’s sadness, sure, and you can expect to cry, but don’t expect a denouement in the style of a typical book. Don’t expect the typical. Expect beauty, expect miniatures, expect the unexpected, and expect to look at your house in a way you never have before.

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