Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall - Ken Sparling

Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ken Sparling
Mudluscious Press, 2012

When someone asked me what Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall was about, it felt like I’d seen a beautiful tree and struggled to describe it to someone, only to have that someone say: “Yes, but what is the tree about?” You wouldn’t know how to answer that question. It isn’t the right question. The tree wasn’t ever about anything. It was just beautiful.

- Ken Sparling, Introduction to Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall

I read a book but I do not know how to tell you about the book. I am telling you this because I think you ought to know about the book, and I do not know the right words to say about the book. There are many words I could say about the book, but none of the words will be the right words. I am saying I don't know if we'd understand them the same way. That's how life is.

Ken Sparling's Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall is a re-release of a "cult classic" - a novel, according to publisher J.A. Tyler, "... famously acquired and edited by Gordan Lish and released in 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf." In addition to a new, distressed/vintage-look cover, the 2012 version from Mudluscious Press has added a lovely introduction from the author, in and of itself a pleasure to read, and for those of us previously unfamiliar with the author and his work, helpful to framing our understanding of the book.

The novel is a story of a family coming apart, told in fragments, by a husband/father that shares the author's name. Quite like the way thoughts and memories emerge and mingle in one's own head, the fragments come in no discernably particular order. The author is distinctly conscious in his stream of consciousness (i.e., "I am telling you this...") and each paragraph in itself is beautiful, or charmingly quirky, or unfathomable, or provokingly puzzling (why is the author telling me this?). The novel is a million flash fictions that scatter your attention every which way; taken together though, they create a pervasive sense of love, loss and nostalgia. I was particularly struck by the narrator's relationship with his son, which poignantly depicts both a parent's overwhelming love and fear:

Whenever Sammy slept, I would go outside quick, before he woke up. I felt that terrible power that flies out of you as soon as it gathers. Sammy liked to get a stick and smash it into the bushes in front of the house. We live in a town house, so we share the front bushes with the people who live next door. He felt love for his children. We would know it, that it was enough for people in this world to feel love for their children and that this would be enough. I would tell Sammy to stop smashing the bushes and he would stop. He would start smashing the tree out front, which we also share, and the bark would come showering off. You didn’t have to do anything. Consequently, I came to believe there wasn’t any such thing as love. I said, “Don’t you want to keep things nice?” Secretly, I was glad he was doing it. I thought that love was a thing that could exist only beyond itself, in the moments that generate it, and that the moments that generate love themselves obliterate it.

Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall is not a book for the traditional novel reader: if you like a story with a beginning, middle and an end, artfully connected in linear fashion, you will not find it here. If you like writing that challenges convention in style, mood and structure, however, this will be right up your alley. While I appreciated and enjoyed the writing for many different reasons, I must confess that I am probably more of the former type of reader than the latter, and as a result wondered in the end whether I had really "gotten" this book.

I am saying that I don't know how to tell you about this book. I am saying that I don't know if I am the right person to tell you about this book.

Or maybe so. I have a suspicion that the author might be okay with my just being with this book, and not being responsible for explaining, or not explaining. What is this book about? You wouldn't know how to answer that question. It isn't the right question. 

Ken Sparling's novel Book (Pedlar Press, 2010) was shortlisted for both the Trillium Award and relit awards. He has had four novels published by Pedlar, including his most recent, Intention Implication Wind (2011). His handmade novel, Hush Up and Listen, was issued in a 10th anniversary paperback edition in 2010 by Artistically Declined Press.

You can read more about Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall at the Mudluscious Press website and read a very interesting roundable discussion with Ken Sparling and other Mudluscious authors at Necessary Fiction. My thanks to the publisher for a review copy of the book.

Happy reading!


  1. I love the way you wrote about it.

  2. I like how you've written this, too. The way you've said you don't know if you've done it well etc, is actually an awesome recommendation, it gives an idea of what the book is like (in a good way).

  3. Yes, I too much exclaim and squeal about this review -- I love it when readers share the real way they read a book -- that much matters to me as much as the actual story.

  4. (a squeal! love it). Many thanks Audra :D.


Thanks for visiting - thoughts welcome.