I was introduced to Chandler Klang Smith by an interview she did with Writer’s Digest. She suggested that “a novel is a fractal”. The recovering mathematician in me found the idea intriguing and elegant, so I posted a rather detailed response in the comments. Sadly, that response vanished into the bowels of the Interwebs never to be seen again, so I re-posted with a simple “I love the idea of a novel as a fractal”. For my efforts, this lucky (and random) responder was rewarded with a copy of Goldenland Past Dark.
I was really looking forward to seeing the writing of an author who sees the novel as a fractal. And I wanted to read about a killer chasing a circus caravan across the US in the 1960s.
The first thing that struck me, however, was the beautiful prose.
Chandler Klang Smith is smart and paints a vivid picture. The first half of Goldenland Past Dark introduces us to Dr. Show and his traveling circus troupe. The world is haunting with a layer of circus fun applied like whiteface over a disconcerting, gloomy reality.
|Her Pipe — Her Eye Patch — Her Monkey
While the first part of GPD was beautiful, I was a little bothered by the fact that neither the circus nor the characters seemed to be going anywhere. By the midpoint of the novel, most of Dr. Show’s troupe were gone and I felt lost and a bit disappointed at what could have been. I felt like our protagonist clown, Webern.
Wait a minute … actually, that’s pretty cool.
The second half of Goldenland Past Dark takes place around a different, more upscale, circus five years later. Webern experiences more loss, including his Bo-Bo, whom he sees in a vision with “her pipe — her eye patch — her monkey”. Pipe, eye patch, monkey. Love it. Colour me re-hooked.
Whether by design, or by serendipiditous collision of quirk and curiousity, I found the story not only moving forward, but accelerating. The last few pages evoked a surprisingly personal catharsis.
Looking back, I see what was invisible to me at the time: the recursive symmetry of the fractal. You would think that since I was intrigued by the notion of fractals in her work, I would have recognized them while reading. Nope. I was utterly distracted by the richness of Webern’s world.
I am going to have to re-read this book to see if, as I suspect, my impressions of the pacing and the eventual release are due to being taken on a tightening descent down the arm of a fractal.
Well played, Ms. Smith. Well played.
I close with a thank you to Chandler Klang Smith for my copy of Goldenland Past Dark and a shout out to Writer’s Digest for bringing her to my attention.