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Review: There Is No Year by Blake Butler

Calling Blake Butler’s There Is No Year a novel is akin to calling René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images a pipe; both works subtly expand the framework of their respective disciplines by challenging an audience that has solidified its expectations after centuries of familiarity and repetition.

Like the book’s nameless family that doesn’t always pay attention to the laws of nature or physics, the story itself is liquid. A husband, wife and son move into a new house, only to find a motionless “copy family” waiting for them. From there, as the family explores their new house and new lives, unexpected strangeness confronts them at nearly every turn. Butler details each odd incident in a way that doesn’t overburden the reader with its fantastical elements; the disposal of the copy family in a pool in the backyard is told with the same inflection one might use to describe pouring a cup of coffee or checking the mail. The author also utilizes form in such a graceful way that you hardly notice any displacement; for instance, single-, double- and quadruple-spaced paragraphs contribute to each chapter’s flash-fiction feel.

Butler seems to be making a statement that the novel, as an art form, needs to start tearing down walls and moving in new directions if it is going to survive. Though There Is No Year is not exactly a napalm-filled piñata that will forever alter our perceptions of the written word, it helps to illuminate a path toward more liberated forms of artistic expression.

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