Book Review


Finger: Knuckle: Palm, front cover

Finger: Knuckle: Palm

By Ariana Den Bleyker
LucidPlay Publishing, 76 pp


Reviewed by Trena Machado:

Finger: Knuckle: Palm escapes logic of the natural world. What can be the key that gives understanding to this piece of writing? The prologue begins, “Waking up in darkness isn’t like waking up at all.” Right off we feel the impending force of the inchoate. We know we are in a horror story, but what kind? As the story goes on, we never leave mental space. The interior aspect of the narrative’s action and its self-oriented focus, feels like trauma energy. Exactly what the trauma or traumas are, we only get glimpses as the internal chaos unfolds, the mechanics of which do not exist in the objective world. When the trauma is activated, a “threatening figure” appears out of the blue and follows the narrator throughout the book’s twenty short chapters.

The mind’s interior never left, we see the self, under siege from within. The trauma chaos becomes the horizon of the self and the self creates many paths of escape, one after another, dealing with the terror. The body itself is a sieve for letting trauma energy escape, a split between awareness and body, “I stand in front of the mirror convinced my teeth are not my teeth…” Another escape, self-damage is imagined, “The figure plunges its hands deeply into his chest. Instantly, white hot pain rips through me.” Images of body self-damage focus the trauma, hopefully to control, but, an image, taking on the power of self-agency, can also break the boundary of the self,

The body raises its hand into me, slices clean right through my ribs, pierces my heart. I scream. The body, still connected to me by torn tissue and blood pulls me to earth. Its hand wet, slick. My head tingles, ears pop. My eyes close at impact.

The pain, envisioned as actual destruction, an escape dispersing terrifying energy “by way of image,” then the narrative goes on, the body as it was, the mental space in momentary containment.

The “figure’s” actions shift through the narrator’s body,

A hand grabs my leg hard. It moves up toward my pocket. I feel a familiar pain in my stomach. The pain that keeps my voice locked up. The pain of things being taken away. The hand hurts. I feel words kicking their way up my throat.

In one simultaneous action, the self splits and dilutes the pain of the terror by way of the “figure” representing the terror. The splitting permits the dilution, a split-second loop back and forth, the terror being managed between the self and the images created by the self to lessen the intensity. The whole narrative itself of Finger: Knuckle: Palm is a dilution of the terror of traumatic experience—the power of language to handle the chaotic forces of the psyche.

Reality shifts and transforms as with events in dreams, the self balancing the forces to maintain the boundary between the internal and external. Narrative, words, images, the tools of a besieged self, handle the erupting trauma energy. The walls are activated, appliances make noise though not turned on. The “figure” appears, as it does throughout and operates independently, but to have the narrator know that the “figure” is the narrator. In one paragraph the “figure…disappear[s] into the wall” and two paragraphs later, the narrator says, “I’m inside the wall.” Dealing with this trauma energy, the language precise and evocative, disembodiment is a frequent recourse of escape,

There’s a black lump in the water. I look closer and see it moving. There is a lump in my throat, a terrible feeling in my gut. I stand up and call to it. The lump turns to me. I call to it again and wait. It begins to swim toward me. I stand up, take a few steps back. The lump gets closer, rises from the water.

The “lump” migrates from outside to inside the body to a disembodied object with self-agency to a figure operating on its own. Images are devoid of boundary and framework. Language mutates. We are in the quick of language, image, self, narrative, psyche and the energy of trauma that every human mind must deal with in some form. Caught in the tidal wave of trauma, we see what a lacy cut-out of inside/outside the self can be. Den Bleyker’s narrative is of a self holding on in the face of trauma energy, to preserve the self the best way it can…if it can.

The mirror covered in duct tape, an image of the self’s struggle at the boundary of the internal and external which must remain separate realms, if the self is to preserve itself,

I’m in front of the mirror brushing my teeth… I stare blankly into the mirror. It’s covered in duct tape…. I tip my head down to spit out the thick, minty foam from my mouth…. The mirror is no longer covered…. I turn back around to face the mirror. The figure appears.

Here is the full drama, the narrator split to form the “figure,” the “figure” a two-sided function of diluting the trauma energy and recognizing it at the same time, the full self blocked by the mirror covered in duct tape…a wavering, broken boundary, a life and death struggle.

“Because I’m back in the house. The same one. I turn around. The figure smiles”—an icy chill down the reader’s back with the narrator’s being dislocated to the outside. There is the narrative and, then, there is the internal self-agency of the narrative elements as in “the figure smiles” as if really outside the self, which breaks the framework of the narrative: the narrative is not just in the control of the narrator, but handling elements of the self that are locked in the trauma and the trauma has power to erupt autonomously into the plane of the narrative as if it too is creating the narrative. But, the sentence also feels like a broken fragment of a real memory that is part of the trauma. The chapters may be short, but this kind of layering that can be pulled apart create a lattice-work of compressed images and single words with many networking possibilities which the self has at its disposal to handle the eruption of trauma. Den Bleyker has created a literary form to show how trauma energy operates in the self as images are created to handle destructive energy that has been deposited in the tissue of the living brain—from the outside. The goal: “to stay alive.”

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