Deus Ex Machina by Charles Matthew Sauer

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Deus Ex Machina by Charles Matthew Sauer

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A woman exploring a family secret is at the core of this dense and impenetrable work, which provides few moments of entertainment in the darkness.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 140 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation
ISBN: 978-1436314985

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Once upon a time an author starts to write a book. He is swamped in computer machine code at work, and so unable to speak to anyone, and inspired by things he has seen and found on holiday in Pompeii and elsewhere, and legends. Deciding at first against dialogue (as it will all be written by himself, the duo part of dialogue would be missing, and Echo only had Echo to talk back to him), he has some semblance of his audience but cannot see them. All he knows is the audience is looking forward to a puzzle – the craft of turning numbered pages full of printed lettering into a novel, just as he has decided he must. He can't see the ending, but makes a start.

Soon he does deign to provide a lead character – a woman called Cecelia, who takes it upon herself to go back to her family roots and explore, always with a mysterious book in mind, which might lead her to buried treasure, unknown mine workings left by her forefathers, or something else. Travelling with a friend, Justin, who seems to spend a good deal of time half a chapter ahead or behind the action, she meets up with other kin, and a most particularly hard-to-fathom host, Matthew.

What we get in the core of this book is a bizarre, slow, look at a family secret being revealed, in much the same way as David Lynch might. Here too is the peculiar lifeform almost emanating from the building as in Eraserhead, and the man in the mirror from Twin Peaks. Things are not what they seem, as one of his characters might have said. Above all that is the way the author writes about thinking about writing his/her book, with the book we read being a book that constantly talks to us, and itself, about itself – and us.

And with that post-modernistic weft we have the even more obvious feature, and dare I say it, handicap, to the book. The author is imbuing everything with a most blatantly huge vocabulary, and seldom lets us get beyond that to the core of the story. I will admit the following is where things are supposed to be obscure, as this is a scene of mystery, with all forms of logic (spatial, temporal, novelistic) being avoided, but all I feel able to do is provide a lengthy quote and show the proof in the pudding.

A prehensile arachnid on the lock… Weaving voices mummed intangible pseudosapphirine strophes and pitch and barbules (garrote, garret, canary masquerade), all about my fragmented illusion, which metamorphosed from words into something purposive: Maria omnious are thus alephious hovered out of and over the text of the vessel, and clasped, or wraithfully stitched this quiet, as would an oblique clamys, curtain, or copula, preserved for orphic rumination (twisted claws of mizquitl).

It's as easy to type out as is it to read, believe me.

It is a form of work that allows for some word-play at times, as in a mask being dawned – one step beyond just donned. But I can counter that straightaway with the mid-way point where the author/narrator/character asks herself What if I was a character in a novel? – yes, it's one of those.

There is a precedent for this type of book, but thankfully I've exorcised them from my mind since my university days. There is a goodly chunk of nice writing to be found, when one is able to get rid of the wilfully blocking vocab, and certainly the mysteries in Cecelia's lodgings spoke to me, if I must, a lot better than the shenanigans dressing the narrative up as something we none of us needed.

Beyond the actual gratitude for being allowed a copy to read, I can thank the author for that, and for the fact the mysterious book Cecelia is looking for is not in a cod, circular way, the mysterious book we hold, but I cannot pretend to be particularly thankful for the style of the telling. Forgive me for not having examples to hand, but there are surely better books that appear to have the contents written before our eyes, and thus provide a story of whatever intrigue with an added layer of authorial distortion. The way this book so damnably tries to mask everything, let alone distort it, is a big let-down, and so many references to Narcissus alongside Echo only impel me to ask the purposes for it being written thus.

To go back to Lynch, his metaphysical mysteries are absorbing, and drag you in despite their surface awkwardness and over-strong nuances of the unfathomable. This, despite my hard work, did not. I certainly cannot recommend the book to anyone, unless my lengthy quote – a mere sliver of page 53 – woke an odd compunction somewhere.

You might also enjoy The Rose, the Night, and the Mirror by Mark Lingane.

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Buy Deus Ex Machina by Charles Matthew Sauer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Deus Ex Machina by Charles Matthew Sauer at


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