Ken Sparling’s Isn’t This What You Were Looking For? Reviewed by Tobias Carroll

Isn’t This What You Were Looking For?

By Ken Sparling

(Mud Luscious Press; unpaginated)

Reviewed by Tobias Carroll

Ken Sparling’s Isn’t This What You Were Looking For? is a fragmented work, a brief and jarring piece of carefully structured prose. On an initial read, with perspectives shifting from sentence to sentence, vignettes seemingly beginning and ending without rhyme nor reason, and its elusive action, Sparling’s prose felt nearly impenetrable. Sparling’s approach isn’t quite Gary Lutz’s Cubist sentences or the narrative handoffs of William T. Vollmann, but the principle is the same: this is prose that demands a minute attention to detail. Subsequent readings revealed more of Sparling’s structure: events reoccur at moments throughout the chapbook, and the way perspectives change becomes more ordered, the underlying structure more clear.

“I was on the verge of losing my job. In fact, I suddenly realized, everything in my life was about to collapse.” That’s Sparling’s narrator describing their situation early on in Isn’t This What You Were Looking For? Though given that first person plural is used earlier on the same page, and given that the “I” a page earlier seems far more together than this “I,” the plural form of narrator might be even more appropriate. One of the delights of this chapbook is watching the ways in which Sparling plays with the rhythms of his text: two sentences beginning with “We” followed by two that begin with “She”; the way that a rain shower echoes across the pages, slowly becoming a harbinger of something more ominous than bad weather.

Sparling’s approach here can be both exhausting and inscrutable. You find oneself marveling at the structures he creates while still feeling hard-pressed to explain exactly what has taken place in the handful of pages that comprise Isn’t This What You Were Looking For? (Also worth mentioning is that this chapbook is excerpted from a longer work entitled Book.) In the end, it’s the signposts that Sparling provides that reveal the purpose of this particular structure. “I wanted to know how the boy & the girl met. I wanted to know what it was like to meet like that,” we read on the first page. Love then; and the downward spiral; and, on the story’s final page, mortality, leavened bleakly.

  1. […] September issue of The Chapbook Review is up, and I have a short review of Ken Sparling’s Isn’t This What You Were Looking […]

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