Proposals for the Recovery of the Apparently Drowned
Colony Collapse Press 2012
Reviewed by Bob Wake
The four short stories that comprise Michael Sheehan’s Proposals for the Recovery of the Apparently Drowned are ambitious and often darkly amusing fictions that adroitly mesh genre-busting experimental writing and rock-solid literary instincts. While each story succeeds well enough on its own ingeniously devised terms, the title story is perhaps the strongest in the collection. Stripped of the hypertextual footnotes and pop culture references that function as metafictional ballast in the other stories collected here, “Proposals for the Recovery of the Apparently Drowned” is instead a tightly composed narrative about the mounting internalized horror of a woman plunged into a coma-like state of “conscious paralysis” after stumbling and falling outside of a New York dance club. Passages of dryly delivered historical documentation on “suspended animation” are woven directly into the text and add to the story’s powerful effect. Sheehan never pushes the existential metaphor of an unmoored and despairing Beckettian consciousness, allowing us to intimately share the protagonist’s dislocation:
Deep inside herself, willing her body limp and empty and motionless and withdrawing every bit of her true self inside, away, acutely aware of everything around her and through this awareness focused more and more on nothing but staying still, hidden.
The final story, “September,” is the longest in the collection and its hilarious over-the-top self-indulgence is clearly intended as an homage to the influential writer for whom the story is dedicated: David Foster Wallace (1962-2008). Sheehan cleverly glosses aspects of Wallace’s Infinite Jest (the novel’s apocalyptic tennis court game of Eschaton—which also inspired the Decemberists’ video for their “Calamity Song”—becomes an epic round of Civilization in Sheehan’s story). More than mere parody, Sheehan’s “September” finds its own rhythms and drug-fueled conspiratorial compulsions, and the story’s final section (dated September 12, 2008, the date of Wallace’s death) is heartbreakingly beautiful as writing and as eulogy.