Do Everything in the Dark
It is not just that Gary Indiana’s novel, Do Everything in the Dark, is about, or fictively triggered by, old photos (and letters), but that the form the book takes captures this random recall in its ability to fit its pieces together, almost. Is a roman à clef a story told on its head? Or is it merely standing upright, a little off center from the “real” story it simultaneously cloaks and exposes? Indiana ends this novel with an epigraph (with this placement, is it an epitaph for a generation or epoch?) by Guy Debord: “In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood” (from Society of the Spectacle). To this end, Indiana has posited that the former question I pose is true, perhaps; and so, false, as well. The sidestepping question, however, is also one that must be answered in the affirmative, as any retelling, of story or character, in these pages, offers a recognizability of the real world’s textual twins, and in that Indiana has created a story that works almost all the way around, literally, and even moves these characters (for which there are real-life (and deceased) referents) forward a little bit, into the now, not unlike ghosts for which substance has never been an issue.
Do Everything in the Dark (a reissue; original publication year was 2003) consists of 74 entries, which focus on friends of the narrator, Gary, and how the lives of the friends intertwine. “I found Arthur’s letters in Jesse’s storage boxes. A letter always arrives at its destination. These had passed through Jesse on their way to me. I thought. It’s my destiny to collect any evidence that everyone’s life hasn’t been a hallucination, even if it feels like one.” (107), for this novel is a witnessing, of events, crimes, life, and death.
These entries are not in chronological order, but in order of how and when they are remembered. With this, Indiana deftly uses bricolage to strive for a holistic picture, managing to bring back a particular lineage just at the moment the reader may fail to keep that particular line in mind. Given the devastation of the ‘80s and ‘90s among Indiana’s contemporaries, this feat of re-membering the dead is a beautiful endeavor, which he lands—by way of current-day entries—in 2001, in the months leading up to September 11. There is no real portent here, only events in their quotidian and spectacular, and spectacularly banal, happening:
“We were excited for a while by drugs and sex, sometimes by escape from the stultifying provincial childhoods, by ideological manias that were in the wind, by Che Guevara and Mao’s Little Red Book […] by rock and roll, punk rock, hip-hop, marketing brainstorms, junk bonds, liver transplants, by ever-refined electronic gadgets that seemed to afford some control over the gathering chaos. But eventually everything new became a short-lived palliative for the fatal gash of boredom. We began manufacturing problems that sounded deeper, worthier of analysis, than the Oblomov syndrome produced by getting older in an age when everybody had seen too much by the time they were thirty-five.” (120)
Indiana’s writing feels like reportage. In his book about Andrew Cunanan, the man who shot and killed fashion designer Gianni Versace in 1997 (Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story, 1999) and in the novel about the Menendez brothers, Lyle and Erik, who were convicted of murdering their parents in 1994 by a California jury (Resentment: A Comedy, 1998), he carries the reader through events loosely, constructing distance in order to remind the reader that all representation occupies this very space of falsehood. Sometimes, this makes for reading that doesn’t immediately engage, but given what it seems Indiana’s commentative purposes often are, this seems “right and “true.” Do Everything in the Dark, however, pushes that style a bit further. Because it is a more personal story, at times it feels more intimate, but this intimacy often creates even more distance than is found in some of his other works.
If you recognize in this book certain luminous figures (such as Nan Goldin, Cookie Mueller, and Sharon Niesp), then another layer is added to an already packed book. The reader will bring qualities and episodes to the characters which are partially rounded. Indiana of course brings these characters into the 21st century, and what is not anecdotal here becomes the current life of the survivors, always a difficult, and often sad, story to tell.
The mainline through the book is the life of “Miles Sutherland.” Introduced on the fifth page, and ending with his funeral, Miles represents a star (both cosmically and celebrity) around which myriad planets (each its own world) orbit. Gary, being one who circled this fictive lives, and Indiana, being one who is still orbiting, inscribing ever-deeper paths for us to follow, appear to start to come together. By the time I read the following passage, I was no longer hearing the character, but rather the author’s voice: “I did not believe that Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, Green Peace, or the Nature Conservancy could rescue this lemming species and its cell phones. I wrote checks to these organizations as a futile, half-assed gesture. It was too late, too late, too late.” (203). Writing this, and any, book could also be considered futile, but it seems never too late to tell a good story, of good characters.
Mullin resides in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Bill, and her dog, Beatrice (no, not named after Dante’s Beatrice, but the divine French actress Dalle). Mullin is currently a media and communications doctoral candidate at European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland.