thechapbookreview

Matt Bell’s The Collectors, Reviewed By Adam Robison

The Collectors Final CoverThe Collectors

A Novella by Matt Bell
Released May 2009

5 3/8 w × 8 5/16 h × 64 pp
Sixty-pound acid-free off-white text stock
Perfect-bound ten-point glossy cover

$8.00 US with free domestic shipping
OUT OF PRINT – NOW A FREE E-BOOK

Collecting the Stories in The Collectors
By Adam Robison

The Collectors is a small story, a puny story, a little story, a big story, a huge story, a big, big story, a narrow story, a dank cave. Matt Bell wrote it. It was published by Caketrain. Brian Evenson picked it as a runner-up for their contest. It’s 64-pages long, but spatially it spirals upon itself and throbs back out because of the peculiar way Bell structured it, and also because of the ordinary way Bell structured it.

It’s about two brothers named Homer and Langley who live in a house filled with tons of junk. Newspapers and stuff. 120 tons of junk. They’re real, I guess. It happened, something along these lines actually happened. Matt Bell did not make this up. It was probably in the newspaper. Matt Bell researched the source material then wrote it differently. The story occurs in the third person, but there are portions in the second-person and a framed story told with an I-voice, which covers the discovery of the larger framework and I wonder: what’s Matt Bell trying to pull?

Bell could well have written this after reading Endgame by Beckett and whatever book is the opposite of Endgame by Beckett – maybe Krapp’s Last Tape by Beckett.
Endgame is always called “Cartesian” because the set, a barren room with two windows, represents the interior of a skull. Clov, hardly mobile, cares for Hamm, who is completely immobile. Homer is chair-bound (like Hamm) and Langley assists him (like Clov). The story about Homer and Langley is cerebral too, but it isn’t brainy. Also, it isn’t not brainy. It’s a little nugget, a walnut. If Endgame functions as a cogito, then The Collectors works as a cluttered one.

Thus the cluttered comparison to Krapp’s Last Tape. There are disorderly piles of boxes and old archival reels in Krapp’s room, where he’s listening to that recording he made about his lovely boat ride or whatever. There’s only one person in this story, Krapp. There’s a thing with a banana, with the peel.

In The Collectors there’s a thing with orange peels. When Langley’s self-set traps pin him under a boulder of sewing machines outside the master bedroom, Homer is left stranded on his own. He tries to find his brother, but gets lost among the labyrinthine stacks. Dejected now, Homer tries to make it back to where he keeps his chair and realizes he’s arrived when, with exhausted fingers, he touches fruity detritus.

Homer, blind, eats lots of oranges to cure his eyesight. That was Langley’s idea.

There’s a lot of stuff in the house. This is a big story, one “[s]upported by scraps of lumber and stacked newspaper or cardboard” – (which is how Bell describes the house). The whole thing is like a maze, and the story matches that framework. Even the chapter headings are jumbled. The chapter headings have all gone awry. The Collectors doesn’t walk the line of Ch1–Ch 2–Ch 3, it goes 1A–3A–2A–4A– 3B–1B and so on. It’s cool. On page 52 comes chapter 5A.

First I read straight through the book. Then I read straight through the A sections, then through the B sections, like that. Someday I plan to read all the 1 sections. Why not? You can choose however you want to read The Collectors. You can read it several times and be fooled into thinking it’s several books. Having written several books and then collapsing them all into the same story, Matt Bell’s The Collectors is a jaw-dropping achievement.

Naturally, you can choose however you want to read any book, but with The Collectors (and Nabokov’s Pale Fire), it makes sense to mix it up a little. Because the story’s layers, like the packing of Homer and Langley’s house, are so dense, even fans of convention can enjoy the innovations here; even a glossing of the rich depths makes for an enveloping read.

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