USEREVIEW 054 (Capsule): Disappearing in Reverse

Jade Wallace/ November 3, 2021/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Allie McFarland
Disappearing in Reverse (University of Calgary Press, 2020)
ISBN 978-1-77385-143-3 | 238 pp | $24.99 CAD — BUY Here


Like loose shale skidding down a mountainside, everything in Allie McFarland’s novel(la) feels like it’s slipping out from under you. The narrative is told by a narrator who is conspicuously unreliable. We watch her lie, for unarticulated if intuitable reasons, to everyone she meets, from the moment she meets them. Neither they, nor we, are allowed so much as her true name. Instead we know her by a procession of false names, each stolen from the last person she met, and both her personality and sense of reality share this ephemeral and circumstantial quality. Our narrator is always a mirror of where she has been, effecting an elaborate and nostalgically melancholic deflection of the self and the present, which seems appropriate for a person who spends the novel ambivalently searching for someone who is almost certainly dead. The narrator speaks as if she is both fleeing from and, grasping for, the reader at the same time. This emotional reticence is matched by the book’s aesthetic approach. Written as a series of terse scenes (chapters?) that vacillate rapidly between the past and the present, this novel(la) — a form whose parameters are not explicitly articulated within the text itself — functions an inversion of the bildungsroman. Rather than being a tale of our narrator’s maturation, growth, edification, it is instead one of her unrelenting alternations between self-de(con)struction and slapdash reconstructions that are always threatening to give way and take us with them.

Recommended excerpt:

In ‘Thea’s Kitchen’ (pp 136–139), the twenty-something narrator is, seemingly, taught to make rice by a woman who is barely an acquaintance. By description, it might sound like a domestic scene, of no particular interest or significance, but it throws into sharp relief the disarray of the narrator’s life. She is, we know, surrounded by family, but a stranger is the only one who spends time cooking with her. And she is, we know from ‘Apartment’ (p 5), already capable of making rice. We are left wondering whether she has feigned ignorance because she so wanted to share this small act of intimacy and care, or whether she has by this point become so dissociated from herself that she has, in fact, forgotten.

Jade Wallace is the Reviews Editor for CAROUSEL. More:

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