By Norman Lock

Published in 2009

Ellipsis Press

Genre: Surrealist Fiction

138 pages

In Java, a master of the Shadow-Puppet Theater seeks to possess-by his art-a woman who perishes as though by the contagion of his unnatural desire.

-back of the book description.

In praise of Shadowplay, R.M. Berry wrote Stories compensate for lives unlived. They are what… Guntur, calls shadows, negative reflections on a backlit screen, comprising, through artistry and brief illumination, ghosts. Lock’s teller is imprisoned by darkness, captivated by warriors and princesses no longer, if ever, living. Death becomes a distance from which the voices of these unliving return. It is a journey as delicious as it is threatening.

After reading this book, I have not found many praise on or about the novel. On the back cover, the only praise that was about the book was by R.M. Barry where it offers more as a summary. For the first time, I am not giving this book a rating. This 138 page book was often difficult to read, and hard to get swept up in.  There is no clear description, or synopsis I could give this book. It is more of a, huh? What just happened? I will try to explain, though.

Guntur was a Dalang.  What a dalang really is, is not entirely clear. Although this word, and the word wayang are mentioned often in italics, there is no concrete definition. Dalang seems to be a master puppeteer. But not just any puppeteer. Guntur has memorized the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. There is Arjuna, who is protected by Lord Krishna. His puppets, wayang that is hand crafted with horse leather, become alive with his touch. They are shadows, real and not at the same time. Guntur is connected with these puppets and “people” more than he is with the human race. So much so, that he takes his wayang, Arjuna to journey into the land of the dead. He didn’t know the woman he fell deeply in love with, not truly. She  was always at arm’s length with him. He would sit behind his white, cotton screen soaking up all that she said. The minute details of her life. Things that were more simple than the world and lives he created, worshiped, and reenacting with passion and ardor. She was a simpleton. Yet, after a devastating ten years, he journeys to find her dead body, asleep in the underworld to selfishly bring her back as a wayang. All out of love.     How does he do it? By creating the stories that make everything true and possible in the world of the sleeping. He speaks of what should happen, and he does because it is a story, a story that becomes real somehow. Whew, how convoluted does that sound? That, ultimately none of it is true, really. True is a tough word to use. Maybe not the right one that matches the emotions. Just makes me wonder is life all fictitious? Or, is imagination, and determination, all it takes to bring someone back?

I just couldn’t keep up with the novel; with all the italics for words that I couldn’t quite figure out.  It all just felt flat to me. I just had a hard time. It took me almost a week to read a 138 page book. Six days! Six days? And, what did I get out of it? Two quotes I kind of liked. Just two. And I love reading books by indie authors. And books that are different. But this book went beyond. And not a good beyond for me. I just can’t rate it because I still can’t grasp what happened. I am disconnected and left empty. It wasn’t bad, though. I just think it is for a very specific audience, and I still don’t know who that audience is. I wish it was better. That I fell in love with a surprise pick. But, nope. Not at all. This book made me slightly regret paying money for it at the Brooklyn Book Festival last September. I could have bought a better book. Oh, well.

Many times it is only the names of things that make a difference to anyone– that is to say:words.