The Darkness to the West

The Darkness to the West

by Adam Gnade Author

From the author of the Powell's Books bestseller Hymn California, Adam Gnade's novella zine, The Darkness to the West, is about a world falling apart and the things we can do to hold it back together. Over the course of 42 pages, Gnade's characters break into nature preserves, try to use The Force, shoot beer cans off each others' heads William Tell-style, and threaten the neighbors with an official Indiana Jones movie prop bullwhip. It's a story about getting rowdy to ditch the bummer-times. Set mainly in the South, the book begins with its main character James on a self-imposed exile: “My work space was on the second story of the old colonial house I was crashing in, a great leaning wooden thing with balcony porches around the front and back. It sat surrounded by oak and magnolia trees which had long-dead vines wrapped around their trunks like snakes turned to stone. Birds lifted out of them in wild Amazonian flocks. Squirrels jumped from branch to branch. These were Southern trees, the kind that make you feel as if you are in the Congo or tropical jungleland in St Croix.” From there it's a race away from social anxiety and into adventure. This is a celebratory jam in the face of blues and danger.



    When writers or readers think of literary formats, the lowly novella is often overlooked or forgotten. Usually between 20,000 and 40,000 words, the novella occupies an awkward space between short story and novel, but it offers opportunities for characterization and conciseness that longer or shorter forms don’t. Adam Gnade writes both novellas and novels, and his shorter works stand apart as fascinating experiments in an unusual media form.


    A video review of Adam Gnade's the Darkness to the West from Billy the Bunny's website!


    This short novella follows the unnamed protagonist – a Portland transplant and a stand-in for Gnade, I’m guessing – through a summer in Virginia, where he’s holed up to write a novel. Beyond that setup, there isn’t much of a story. Rather, the novella is comprised of bite-sized vignettes of dialog, anecdotes, and impressions of the people and places around him during his travels. Think Cometbus. Gnade’s style is economical and affecting in a good perzine way. The Portland archetype (if not cliché) of the under-employed but over-educated boxcar hobo-wannabe can be exasperating, but Gnade works in this space well by steering clear of boastful pride and self-wallowing (the Skylla and Charybdis of the Portland zine scene). Yes, you have the cheap wine, cheap bus tickets, and off-kilter, transient friends, but the strong writing and hopeful vibe are refreshing.


    Gnade (who also records music and does something with the Microcosm Publishing house) really cast a spell with his recent novel Hymn California, which wove together incredibly detailed, vivid scenes with a touch that conveyed complexity, ambiguity and sophistication. This shorter book (chapbook sized, but maybe that's a poetry-only term) is a slightly less satisfying but no less compelling series of vignettes involving a whip, some wine, a gun, and America.


    I'm not sure how he does it but but Mr Gnade has managed to write another fantastic tale of everyday life and this time it's in the form of his novella called The Darkness To The West. It's basically a 60 page short story which Adam describes as “adventure stories all linked together to detail one strange lost summer in America.” I couldn't put it better myself. If you're unfamiliar with Adams work, music or written, I'll give you a brief introduction. He's an American musician/author who has somehow bridged the gap between both mediums. The intertwining of his music and novels through a shared story is something that always fascinated me. Think of him as a modern day blues man without a hint of twelve bars. His first novel, Hymn California, told the story of modern day living without a hint of any sort of structure. Which is what life is all about right? Sometimes it's bleak and a lot of the time pure joy will be found in the simplicity of hanging out with friends and getting drunk, not winning the lottery. The Darkness To The West flows perfectly on from Hymn California and serves as a great taster of his talent to newcomers. So if you fancy becoming obsessed by someone with a lot of talent then I suggest you buy this right now or anything else he's done.


    Along with Hymn California I received this short novella called The Darkness To The West, written sometime toward the end of summer 2008. I thought it focused a little more on the characters and letting them breathe on their own to inspire the stories, which is definitely a good sign. I let my mom read it because one of the characters coincidentally shared her name. She txted me: "I loved this. It was easy to read and apparent to me that even though the narrator feels isolated at times it's obvious that he cares for his friends very deeply, and maybe everyone else too. mary lou greco."


    Adam Gnade’s (say it “guh-nah-dee”) describes his work as “a series of books and records that share characters and themes”, in which fiction and song mingle in an attempt “to compile a vast, detailed, interconnected, personal history of contemporary American life.” Solid theory, no? What this looks like in practice is equally as exciting. First there’s “The Darkness to the West”, Gnade’s 42-page novella zine which you can scope out at our favorite zine distro, Microcosm. Then there’s “Hymn California”, a full-length novel that wound up a bestseller at Powell’s Books. Gnade also records cassettes on a 4-rack machine and has a CD called “The Wild Homesick”, which he calls a “strange, warm, troubled summer record full of doom and affirmations.” So much good work emanating from one soul is always an inspiration.