American architect Richard Meier once said that “Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved.”
People are integral, too—in more ways than one–when it comes to the construction of a unique megastructure as chronicled in Brendan Connell’s cohesively taut and insidiously and evermore disquieting novella The Architect. Debate and controversy too is woven into the warp and woof of the edifice in ways that evoke the time-honored and cautionary admonition to “be careful what you wish for.”
If you are familiar with Connell’s tales of misery and imagination—evidenced in such stylistic and structurally diverse and dark works as the minimalist 36-city set Metrophilias, the decadence-drenched story collection Unpleasant Tales, or the mythopoeic and idiosyncratic novella/story compilation The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children—then you may have come to appreciate the adventurousness with which the author gives sway to experiments in structure, language, theme, and control. And you’d know how hair-trigger quick wishful thinking can become nightmarish fright. Expecting the unexpected, and sometimes the seemingly unacceptable, is part and parcel of the Santa Fe-born Connell’s refusal to settle for the merely unsettling.
With The Architect, Connell forgoes any kaleidoscopic impulses to consolidate with economy and precision focus the plot development and singular tone of the narrative. There simply are no subplots to negotiate or a multitude of other considerations cluttering up the craftsmanship and a story set into motion when members of the mystical Switzerland-set Körn Society commence plans to build a new Meeting Place. With something awe-inspiring and transcendent in mind, however, they reject the more nondescript and unoriginal submissions.
Ultimately though, a sketchbook of imaginative and gravity-flouting architectural marvels by the audacious and erratic visionary Alexius Nachtman is brought to their attention. Having studied “nature’s angles and curves and transposing them onto buildings,” the architect dreams “of building hyperboloid places, hallucinogenic structures, towers that dived into the earth and crypts which rose into the air, integrating the fluidity of water into his designs and energetically studying catenary principles.”
Sold! Amidst concerns about such humdrum hurdles as costs, labor, and practicality, the Körn Society can’t resist the impetus to give sway to self-congratulatory grandstanding, and so bring Nachtman aboard for the commission of a what promises to be a wondrous engineering colossus.
But, of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go to cost overruns, cutting corners, and makeshift approaches—not to mention the frailties of human nature and second guessing. That blurry line between opulence and the grotesque is straddled many times over, always in danger of tipping the scales from what was conceived as biomorphic beauty, to what may become a more Boschian shock of the new. Will the magnificent edifice be a flight of fancy that sinks like a stone?
With resonating and vibrant prose and vivid imagery, Connell masterfully conveys with an incisive attentiveness the ramping-up of events and the sustaining accumulation of moods and emotions. But for a novella of 124 pages, it constitutes a rich and multilayered approach and execution that sees more than just the surface actions and main characters putting their hearts and souls into the construction of a building: Beneath the foreseeable and anticipated expectations, there is an underlying and more insidious sense of free-floating dread that comes into perverse play. Think Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” as written by Edgar Allan Poe.
Taken altogether, it makes for a novelistic cauldron of seamlessly incremental and tell-tale apprehension that you can’t quite put your finger on, but you’re riveted to read on to find out. After all, as Connell writes, books, “those warehouses of consciousness, are able to reach out across space and time and grab, caress, even force.” As he goes on to note, “There is nothing more dangerous, more sublime than a few hundred or thousand pages fastened together and sandwiched between two covers.” I think 124 pages counts, too.Powered by Sidelines