The Very Thing That Happens
Theater by Russell Edson
In her introduction to this remarkable book if fables and drawings, Denise Levertov describes Russel Edson as “one of those originals who appear out of the lonesomeness of a vast, throned country to create a peculiar and defined world . . . a world seen as through the wrong end of a spyglass, miniscule but singularly clear.” “Fable” is really too narrow a term for Russel Edsons’s writing. His brief, tightly-packed, highly-charged paragraphs are the crystallized essence of what could be long stories, and they are prose poems. They are nutshell commentaries on the human condition (“at times wildly funny, as if King Lear had been written and illustrated by Edward Lear”) and they are ontological probings into the nature of things: objects, animals, people. “Edson’s mode,” Miss Levertov writes, “is detached, oblique, austere. He is able to pass without loss of grace from the hilarious to a kind of dark gothick beauty, and sometimes to a tenderness that reveals him as no cruel puppetmaster but the anguished beholder of inexplicable cruelties. His art – its syntax, its elegant dryness, its bizarre condensed events – is the unique outgrowth of an eccentric imagination, the convoluted shell of the mind’s hypersensitive, clairvoyant snail.” Edson’s line drawings are not specific illustrations to his tales, but a kind of contrasting commentary, or obbligato to them.