Farsickness: A Novel.
House of Vlad. 2023. 140 pp.
How much of a person can be sanded away before they're no longer a person?
Joshua Mohr's Farsickness opens with a narrator, Hal, who appears to be in a disassociated state, listening to a voice—a new voice, different from the normal ones—summoning him on a journey to a castle in Scotland, a homecoming to a place he's never been. At least, we're pretty sure he's never been there—he has no memories.
In a book like the one described above, I want the author to disappear, too. I want to forget I'm reading a created thing, a string of words someone poked into a Word document at a desk or coffeeshop. I want to subconsciously believe the narrator is real, that I'm in their head and it's a rollercoaster headed for the drop, and all I need to do is throw my hands up in the air and feel.
It doesn't take much to shatter that illusion. As Hal's backstory emerges, we learn he's—purportedly—an Afghanistan vet. "Basic at Pendleton. Afghanistan. Tenth Mountain Division," he says, which in seven short words outs the narrator as not a war veteran and indeed not a narrator at all, but a string of words flung down in haste by an author presumably unwilling to do even the most cursory Google search: in short, Camp Pendleton is a Marine Corps base, and the 10th Mountain Division is an Army unit. (And nobody goes to basic at Camp Pendleton anyway, but now we're getting really pedantic.) I am not a veteran of any repute; I don't insist that people ReSpEcT tHe TrOoPs or whatever. And it's every author's right to indulge in flights of fancy. But that makes it all the more important the departures and returns from reality aren't jarring. Authors, you have to get simple facts right if you want to maintain an illusion to any reader who isn't completely ignorant on a topic. This string of words was like having a religious leader say, "I went to school at Moody Bible Institute and then got assigned to the Vatican."
And it's a shame, because there's a lot riding on that little connection to the narrator's past. As he journeys through the castle to which he's been summoned—or perhaps, through the uncharted waters of his own mind—it becomes clear his surreal visions are related to his backstory. Every journey to something is also a trip away from something else; we often avoid looking at what we're running away from, but it can be a dark star, a negative Polaris we keep squarely in the middle of the blind spot behind us lest we glimpse even a sliver of it.
And yet nobody can stay that way forever. (Even while we're keeping our head and eyes straight forward, what we avoid looking at ends up defining us.) So, too, with Hal. Amidst the fantastic and absurd visions, we catch glimpses of his past horrors, and the surreal starts to make perfect sense.
Still, there are better visions, glimpses of a happier life. Hal comes off as a modern-day Odysseus, braving the sirens and cyclopses of his own head and history, searching for a sort of homecoming, if only in his mind.
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