Tarpaulin Sky Press has just published a new work of fiction by Andrew Zornoza, Where I Stay, which includes numerous embedded photographs. Unlike W.G. Sebald and most other writers that have scattered images in a sporadic manner throughout their texts, Zornoza’s book places a snapshot on every right hand page, setting up a visual rhythm with two sets of text. The left-hand page is a diary entry, complete with date and place, while on almost all of the right-hand pages, in addition to the photograph, there is an italicized text that is usually briefer than the diary entry. Part of the puzzling pleasure of reading Zornoza’s novel comes in attempting to triangulate these three components.
The book opens with a 1938 quote from photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975), perhaps most famous for his Farm Security Administration photographs of the American Depression and for his collaboration with writer James Agee on the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).
These anonymous people who come and go in the cities and who move on the land; it is on what they look like, now; what is in their faces and in the windows and the streets beside them and around them; what they are wearing and what they are riding in, and how they are gesturing, that we need to concentrate consciously, with the camera.
In spite of its title, Where I Stay is a restless book that moves all across the American West and even into Mexico. Time flows from August 2 to November 25, but otherwise there is no discernible progression. The narrator drifts, struggles, observes, and writes regular diary entries about day jobs, drugs and alcohol, death, loneliness, and brief attempts at friendship.
Compared to the diary entries, the italicized texts on the right hand page are generally more meditative and reflective.
Sometimes I wrote things down, fragments. But then I looked at them and they did not seem real and there seemed to be no purpose in writing them. There was nothing in them, other than things I did not want to remember.
The photographs, which are credited to five people other than the author, depict the bleak anonymous locales familiar to every hitchhiker: roadsides, truck stops, bus stations, laundromats, gritty streets. There are a few snapshots of people, none of whom receive the heroic treatment of Walker Evans’ sharecroppers. Only the occasional landscape image offers a possible solace – the open sky, the sunset, the forests that consume the old shacks and abandoned automobiles – but even those moments are undercut by the text.
Oct. 13, Lincoln City, Oregon
A parking lot by the sea, an ashtray on the dashboard. Windows racked open, the sound of cars, music playing from a boombox. I wake because the driver opens the passenger door. He puts his hands on the hood, lights a cigarette and smokes. Then he goes down the steps, faces the seawall, kneels and prays. It is early morning, nothing but gray and fog. A chill comes through the open window. I thought that seeing the ocean would be the end of something. It is not.