Fiction. In a New York City where time is chopped up like salad and people finish each others' sentences, a dozen characters with names out of songs by The Fall have love affairs and take parts in a one-act play in the summer of 2001, and the spring, summer, and fall of 2004. YOU ARE HERE is part Fassbinder anti-theatre, part cheap heartbreak a la Brenda Starr, part intertextual hall of mirrors. Donald Breckenridge's stunning prose spins into life a world of ideas and art--that nevertheless can come to a dead halt in a heartbeat.
The title You Are Here is not the helpful marker found on the mall or subway map; it's the alienating one pointing to the microscopic dot on the existentially joking poster of the universe.
Now, to ward off this alienation, Janet and James are seeing each other, as are Cindy and Andrew. On a different timeline, Stephanie and Alan are seeing each other, although Alan's married, so the relationship is complicated. Once, Janet and Cindy were seeing each other; they even lived together, but things didn't work out. Moving through the dating permutations, Cindy comments that people tend to consume others simply for the sake of the experience.
The poles are set, then, between complete alienation and consumption. On the side of alienation are ineluctable events from the local (a train crash, the World Trade Center) to the national (the re-election of George W. Bush, the ensuing presidency) to the international (the fighting in Fallujah, the Iraq War in general). The reader learns these events are on-going from short lists of headlines spotted on the subway or in passing, by brief broadcasts which are quickly switched off. It's as if the reader, too, by focusing on You Are Here, is ignoring the universe's puissant You Don't Matter forever repeated by the news.
Breckenridge's characters make themselves matter by substituting the personal for the geopolitical, by retreating into unhealthy or at least ill-advised relationships, by playing the old meta-narrative game: the May-December romance, the cheater and his mistress, the consumer and the consumed.
But these small attempts at organizing the universe are failures. Rendered in a beautifully fragmented combination of dialogue and description, the characters, in trying to play their selected roles, aren't able to focus on the lines, either because of a continued inner-pain, outright egocentrism, or a seeming attention deficit, as if what's being said couldn't possibly be worthwhile; the lines are mumbled by melancholic actors to ennui-riddled co-actors searching for something to organize or lend meaning to their lives. Furthermore, Breckenridge skillfully splices scenes together, combining present-time conversations and actions with sometimes painful, sometimes banal memories that serve to slightly unmoor the reader, but which also show how plotless the characters' lives are. Any attempt to combat alienation only leads to alienation.
Desperate for organization and meaning, three of the characters try to control their lives by writing semi-autobiographical works, which Breckenridge, ever the splicer, seamlessly includes in You Are Here. There is a short story, a play, an idea for a novel, a novel-in-progress, a guide on writing fiction, all opening onto the metafictional hall of mirrors (there is even a character named Donald), leaving the readers to wonder how to solve the puzzle.
One of the many joys in this novel is wondering if one of the characters wrote any given section. After trying to put the puzzle together for the first half of the book (who's dating who and when, who's writing what and why, who are the real people of the You Are Here universe and who are the characters from the semi-autobiographical works), the reader will realize that the point isn't to assemble the jigsaw (though there is a good deal of fun in that), but to understand that any final assemblage is subjective, that the pieces could go together many different ways. --Andrew Farkas, Word Riot
About the Author
Donald Breckenridge is the Fiction Editor of The Brooklyn Rail and Editor of THE BROOKLYN RAIL FICTION ANTHOLOGY (Hanging Loose Press, 2006). In addition, he is the author of more than a dozen plays as well as the novella Rockaway Wherein (Red Dust, 1998), and the novel 6/2/95 (Spuyten Duyvil, 2002). His novel YOU ARE HERE is out now from Starcherone Books, and his novel This Young Girl Passing is forthcoming from Autonomedia.