There is a chance that this review may not matter much. I felt that I should acknowledge that right at the beginning. After all:
America died that afternoon while everyone looked the other way, distracted by thoughts that concerned moving somewhere else, maybe where it wasn’t so crowded, wasn’t as polluted, and plentiful were still the possibilities.
What is a heart attack?
The heart attack was a localized apocalypse. The end of world was sold in a number of installments. People thought it was fiction.
It was unexpected, but it stuck, and anything that was once there suddenly wasn’t. America’s body was no longer a temple. It had become a wasteland.
As I’m an American, I might not be concerned about much (such as book reviews) if America has died. There might not even be any Americans left to read such a review, and people from outside America might not care much what someone from a dead country has to say. However, the rest of the world may still be out there and may still care, so I will continue with the review even if America might be dead, just in case.
At the very least, America has died in the The Sky Conducting. “America smelled of liquor and vomit as the dial turned to zero.” In the wake of whatever has happened, a nuclear family (‘the nuclear family,’ defined by their roles as the daughter, the father, the mother, the son, and such) wander in the wreckage in an attempt to escape. A mercenary (from somewhere else) may help them sift through the rubble and escape, but then again he might not:
The Father steps through into the Market, out of sight.
Johan turns to the daughter and begins talking: So this is when you get to talk to me without your father here. You will want to know about me. You want to know about Johan.
I am Johan but I am not really Johan. Johan is just a name.
It is a name I have chosen for this land.
Every land I am a new person. I come from over the seas. I am just like you I have seen my country die.
Many countries have died. Countries are people too.
They grow old. They get sick.
Even the big countries. America has been sick a long time.
I know where you come from and I know what you are thinking.
I know everything about you because I know where you come from.
Where you come from says everything about who you are.
I am Johan on this rock.
I am Johan and I am here to help but I mean I am here to –
Help yourself? The daughter finishes Johan’s sentence.
Now, that might not sound all that unusual in and of itself in the canon of post apocalyptic literature, but reading this the way that The Sky Conducting presents itself is something else entirely. It is a new animal. I’ve heard people say that certain books teach you how to read them, but The Sky Conducting actually does so explicitly, right at the beginning:
Picture each grouping of lines as a moment in an era that lacks any definition if placed out of position. Things pass but they certainly don’t pass the same way twice. Not like the clouds skimming across the sky. With death, there is a stop and the only artifact of time spent is found within these groupings. It’s in the skipping and silence of the white space between each grouping that we get to exhale and ponder what has passed and won’t be passing us again.
Really, this is a perfect encapsulation of how it felt for me to read this book. I could think of no better explanation. The form is inventive; chillingly rolling over the reader in a relentless yet unhurried pace. The lines are sparse, but filled with urgent necessity and careful reveal. Just consider this passage as an example:
The daughter tiptoes around the aisles readying herself for any and all danger.
When she finds the go-cart it site there unobstructed.
At first the daughter is relieved. She doesn’t see what the father fussed about but when she sits behind the wheel she sees it hanging from the high ceiling of the Market.
They were people. Some of them, they were friends.
For a book that felt so unusual in form, I still found it highly readable. As haunting, though tender and loving in a way, as it was, the process of reading was still enjoyable (as well as a number of other things). As strange as it feels to say it, I had a good time. I’m not sure I should be saying that about the death of America, but I have to admit it nonetheless.
Certainly, The Sky Conducting is very different from other post apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read, but I’d be enthusiastic to see more like it. America may not really be dead, but if it ever dies The Sky Conducting would be a place to look for insight. It’s in there. Believe me, its in there.