Book Reviews

Published on July 28th, 2022 | by Conor Hultman


Book Reviews by Conor Hultman: “The Deer” by Dashiel Carrera

The Deer
by Dashiel Carrera
Dalkey Archive ($15.95)
available to order from Square Books

Dashiel Carrera’s debut novel The Deer is the first piece of writing I’ve read that seems to move forward emotively, rather than through plot or character or setting or any other traditional literary trapping, nor through any other experimental artifice. What I mean is, The Deer is a book that works deceptively on the reader, at first confronting you with confusion, situations half-explained and scenes observed with only one eye open, until you fall back on the voice, the bare verbal sentences and the narrators’ reactions, and you become finally so dependent on that voice that it carries you along as seamlessly as a snatch of music heard in a dream, altogether familiar and strange and impossible to explain to another.

Such a book is poisonously hard to review; I’d be better off reproducing my favorite passages here and hoping it would be enough to impel you to read it for yourself.

On the surface, The Deer is made up of two parts; “Side A” concerns Henry Haverford, a physicist who possibly runs over a deer one night on the way back from a conference. A Kafkan police investigation follows, which runs over into Henry’s dark family past. A deer metaphor tantalizes with its obscure, dreamlike semi-reality, and the reader is left unsure of what happened and what was metaphoric, but what is concrete is that there has been enormous suffering.

“Side B” has a narrator attending to his dying sister in an apocalyptic landscape. It is cut through with chilling fairy tales; here is one in truncation:

“Once there was a boy who came upon a smooth black rock … Then one day when the boy came home the walls were black and the table was black and his mother’s clothes and eyes and face were black. The boy said that he was sorry that he would get rid of the rock now but his mother told him that it was too late, the rock was already gone … he asked if there wasn’t something he could do for her and she said that everything was indistinguishable now; all was black; there was nothing.”

The intersecting lines between the sides are themes of family, the agony of memory, the mystery of the self versus the other, etc. But the binding glue is Carrera’s sustained poetic perception. I frequently had the experience reading The Deer that I didn’t know what was happening; I was even bewildered, but the next sentence, whether long or short or plain or grammatically acrobatic, dialogue or description, was a good sentence, the right sentence, and I was led right along through weirder scenes until the very end. This is a cacophonic, disturbing book, and it deserves your attention, if for no other reason than that it creates a world almost beyond comparison.

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