This is an excuse to tell you about a book that I’m ecstatic to share. It is haunting, squelching, and dizzy, and it came out TODAY, so I can guarantee that most of you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it yet.
As you probably all know by now, I’m a bit book-obsessed. So when I’m asked to do a painting that gives me early access to exquisite literature, I’m over the moon. A recent project gave me early access to the book I’m recommending tonight. It’s called Avoid The Day, by Jay Kirk, and it was just released TODAY (July 28th, 2020). Right now.
Meet Jay Kirk. This author has written for Harper’s and the New York Times and has invented his own surreal, yet gritty twist on narrative non-fiction. He’s standing there, right behind the ghost of Béla Bartók. You may need a special rectangular device to see into his world, but I assure you, it’s well worth investment.
This was my interpretation of a scene where the book’s narrator is researching Béla Bartók, a deceased musician. Bartók was obsessed with finding rare gypsy music in the hills of Eastern Europe. In this existentialist detective story, retracing Bartók’s steps leaves the narrator’s perception merging with an uncertain past in a remote outhouse, to the distant off-key screaming of a gypsy woman’s one-stringed violin.
ABOUT THIS BOOK (FROM THE PUBLISHER, HARPER COLLINS):
A surreal, high-wire act of narrative nonfiction that redefines the genre, Avoid the Day is part detective story, part memoir, and part meditation on the meaning of life—all told with a dark pulse of existential horror. What emerges is an unforgettable study of mortality and the artist’s journey.
Seeking to answer the mystery of a missing manuscript by Béla Bartók, and using the investigation to avoid his father’s deathbed, award-winning magazine writer Jay Kirk heads off to Transylvania, going to the same villages where the “Master,” like a vampire in search of fresh plasma, had found his new material in the folk music of the peasants. With these stolen songs, Bartók redefined music in the 20th Century. Kirk, who is also seeking to renew his writing, finds inspiration in the composer’s unorthodox methods, but begins to lose his tether as he sees himself in Bartók’s darkest and most personal work, the Cantata Profana, which revolves around the curse of fathers and sons.
After a near-psychotic episode under the spell of Bartók, the author suddenly finds himself on a posh eco-tourist cruise in the Arctic. There, accompanied by an old friend, now a documentary filmmaker, the two decide to scrap the documentary and make a horror flick instead—shot under the noses of the unsuspecting passengers and crew. Playing one of the main characters who finds himself inexplicably trapped on a ship at the literal end of the world, alone, and under the influence of the midnight sun, Kirk gets lost in his own cerebral maze, struggling to answer his most plaguing question: can we find meaning in experience?
Kirk’s subjects (both contemporary and historic) live anew through his psycho-osmotic absorption of them into his narrating self. Time and selves collapse through each other, arriving as compound experiences in a way that is instantly recognizable as a signature quality of Kirk Phenomenology. I believe Whitman and his Sleepers would have bitterly envied this facet of symbolic incorporation. It’s a quality of Kirk’s writing that I very much adore.
Helen Macdonald’s quote describes this text perfectly:
This book is finally available to the public, so I’m happy to recommend it to those who will love it most. Books like this exist for YOU, my friends (to steal a quote from the author), “Musicians. Artists. Nomads. Demons. The Exultant Ones.”
Read so well you get stuck at the bottom of it,