In a review of The Brain Harvest, Ken Nash’s first story collection, artist Clare Le Couteur describes a typical Nash story thus: “You turn it over again in your hands, like a wooden puzzle. You can figure out how it comes apart and fits back together, but still can’t seem to fit it in your mind.” Nash stories are constructed to keep the analytical mind of the reader engaged while covertly employing each story’s real purpose: not to amuse readers, but penetrate on a deeper level.
This is likely the consequence of Nash’s creative process. “I typically set out a puzzle for myself, a seemingly impossibly juxtaposition or set of Oulipo-like restrictions,” explains Nash. “These contrivances keep my analytical mind distracted, working to solve these conditions. This then frees my subconscious mind to slip in all sorts of wonders, prophesies, confessions and feelings without me really knowing it.”
It’s possible to read Life Raft as a continuation of The Brain Harvest. The major themes of various fixations and infatuations, family relations, and the power of art to befuddle and salvage remain. But there is something new happening below the surface, lingering beneath each story. Something darker and more threatening than anything in The Brain Harvest. Yet, like with that first story collection, Life Raft remains determined to reveal that art and imagination are perhaps the only way safely to traverse such dark waters.
Life Raft departs from The Brain Harvest in a few significant ways. Most apparently in the length and complexity of its stories, and most significantly in dealing with the extremes of life and death, urgent and pressing. The stakes higher, the way forward more perilous. Nash makes us aware that in this turbulent world of ours, art is only a precarious raft. Yet, miraculously, it seems to sustain us.
Life Raft is forthcoming with Equus Press in late 2019.
THE SILVER LEAF
Dear Mr. Hobart.
I would be the happiest person on Earth if you would allow me to return to The Silver Leaf. I do not necessarily expect to resume my former position as desk clerk nor receive anything near my previous wages. I realize I will need to regain your trust and prove my worthiness once more. But if you allow me a fresh start, I will happily take any position offered, day or night shift, full or part time. Bussing tables in the dining hall would suit me fine. Even linen service. Or temporary maintenance work. I know you have been considering re-carpeting the badly stained second and third floor landings. I have experience removing old carpeting and would gladly do this for far less than a professional carpet service. I could also undertake window cleaning or any ground work that needs doing — weeding, raking, pruning, excavating — what have you.
I understand I will need to work hard to calm any anxieties my former colleagues may have in regard to working with me again. But I am confident once I return to duty they will appreciate the extra steps I’m willing to take to make everyone’s job easier. I have learned a lot from past mistakes and I am certain similar mishaps will not repeat themselves. As for those who stood against me, I hold no grudge nor harbor any resentment. I have them to thank, actually, for helping to turn my life around. Especially Angela Murphy.
Angela, I understand, has stated publicly there is “no way in Hell” you and the owners of The Silver Leaf would allow me back. But I have always had a good working relationship with you in the past. And I believe the owners are open-minded individuals. I regret not having fully disclosed previous employment difficulties on my job application, but at the time I believed it would unjustly prejudice any hiring decisions. I know now that was wrong of me. Over my many months of service, I came to see The Silver Leaf as a more tolerant and thoughtful employer than I had first given credit.
My doctors and The State of Delaware have all concluded I am perfectly fit to resume my former life and endeavours as long as I continue to receive treatment for my condition. As it was clearly presented in court, my behavior was entirely hormonal and had nothing whatsoever to do with the night sky. Because of all the mayhem, fuss and confusion, Angela and the others most certainly misapprehended what occurred. Maybe a trick of moonlight had given the appearance I had somehow changed form. Maybe it was all shadow and befuddlement. As my attorney clearly demonstrated in court, fear can often affect judgement and perception. I’m sure you, Mr. Hobart, like most rational people, are not superstitious in nature. Certainly you would never place credulity in stories of the supernatural such as werewolves!
Believe me, there is no one who holds The Silver Leaf in as high a regard as I. With its long history of excellent service, ground security and complete discretion, The Silver Leaf has maintained a sterling reputation over the years. Few other inns can hold a torch to its standing. I am fortunate to have been part of such an honourable legacy. And, though Angela may not believe it, I have always considered it, indeed, a high privilege to work there. And for you.
I would be most grateful for an opportunity to speak further about this matter in person and answer any questions you may have in regard to the series of incidents leading to the blood-stained carpeting and my subsequent mandatory confinement. I shall return to your area on the near solstice. Please inform me of your availability. I would be pleased to meet at your convenience, either at The Silver Leaf or a proximate location of your preference.
I hope this letter finds you well and in full recovery.
I’m a horse. I’m a horse. I have to keep reminding myself that. But, of course, a real horse wouldn’t have to remind itself it’s a horse. He’s just a horse, regardless what he thinks. Which leads me to believe, if I have to think I’m a horse I’m probably not much of a horse. The more I try to be a horse, the less certain I am about being a horse. I begin to question what it even means to be horse. And that just gets me nowhere. I need to stop thinking about it, brush off those pesky doubts. Just keeping telling myself, over and over, I’m a horse! I’m a horse! until it becomes second nature.
There is nothing in the dictionary that quite helps me. There is nothing but words. Occasionally a picture. A simple line drawing. But mostly words. Definitions. Sample sentences. Pronunciation guides. Syntax. Why don’t they put food in the dictionary? Doesn’t have to be anything perishable. A little square of chocolate. Some dried fruit. A packet of instant coffee. Something to sit on, too, so you could settle in while flipping through its pages contemplating the inadequacy of dictionaries. Maybe something to listen to, also, like a soundtrack. Why hasn’t anyone written a soundtrack for dictionaries? It would bring them to life. Fill them with suspense and drama. How difficult could that be? Add an earphone jack or bluetooth connection. Duh. Easy. There should be good lighting too. Hemingway wrote that a clean well-lighted place is a refuge from despair. Why not contain such light and space within a dictionary? There is nothing that says a dictionary must have size limitations or light restrictions.
Some say dictionaries are lonely places. Well, I say that. If you’re like me, troubled by isolation and loneliness, you should have a dictionary that’s inviting, where lots of people can gather. Meet me at the dictionary at 7:30pm. Hurry before it closes. Hell, make it a 24-hour dictionary. Always open. No cover. All ages. People can stop in anytime, day or night. Perfect for insomniacs. How great would that be?
Instead of a bunch of words sitting there, you’d have friends and families. Even complete strangers. You could walk up, introduce yourself. Say, Hi, I’m Jeremy. What’s your name? And of course they would have a name, or could choose a name, because every dictionary worth half its salt includes many lists of names. You could talk about etymologies, expressions, usage — whatever, really. Or nothing at all! Why does a dictionary have to be about something? It doesn’t. You could sit there in silence with this new person you’ve just met. Stare into each other’s eyes. A finger pressed gently to lip. A silent communion. A kissless kiss. A meaning undefined, free from the claustrophobic burden of explanation.