A New York Times New & Noteworthy Book • "Strange and affectionate, like Almost Famous penned by Shakespeare. A love letter to music in all its myriad iterations."—Kirkus Reviews • "This book has no business being as good as it is."—Christian Wiman
In the year 2063, on the edge of the Crater formerly known as Montréal, a middle-aged man and his ex’s daughter search for a cult hero: the leader of a short-lived band named after a forgotten work of poetry and known to fans through a forgotten work of music criticism. In this exuberantly plotted verse novel, Guriel follows an obsessive cult-following through the twenty-first century. Some things change (there’s metamorphic smart print for music mags; the Web is called the “Zuck”). Some things don’t (poetry readings are still, mostly, terrible). But the characters, including a robot butler who stands with Ishiguro’s Stevens as one of the great literary domestics, are unforgettable.
Splicing William Gibson with Roberto Bolaño, Pale Fire with Thomas Pynchon, Forgotten Work is a time-tripping work of speculative fiction. It’s a love story about fandom, an ode to music snobs, a satire on the human need to value the possible over the actual—and a verse novel of Nabokovian virtuosity.
About the author
Jason Guriel is the author of several collections of poems and a book of essays. His writing has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic, and other magazines. He lives in Toronto.
Excerpt: Forgotten Work (by (author) Jason Guriel)
Hubert’s favorite work was Mountain Tea.
It’s why he’d gotten into poetry.
He loved a stylish sentence. Strong vibratos.
He loved that Amis book about castratos,
The one that has a character called “Hubert.”
He loved to say he loved the works of Schubert.
Most of all, he loved to love great books.
His earnest views, though, often earned him looks
Of pity. Books are “texts,” and love? All wrong.
The point of reading (someone paused, mid-bong,
To tell him) isn’t pleasure or escapism;
The point is pointing out the hidden racism,
Sexism, and/or classism of the text—
Which left the English major feeling vexed.
He’d found himself inside the sort of dorm
Where young men, parroting their profs, perform
The part of well-read mind and talk til dawn
Of Butler, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan,
And other luminaries of the Left.
But Hubert, waving off the bong, soon left.
A life-sized holo Scarface followed him,
Machine gun swiveling.
At home, his dim
Room, sensing movement, raised the lights a notch.
To raise his spirits, Hubert liked to watch
The sort of film his classmates liked to hate
Or label “problematic.” “Ziri, 8
1/2,” he said. “First scene.” He yawned and sank
Down on his futon. In his fauna tank,
A sleeping bonsai panther wagged its tail.
The mail had yet to beam down on the mail
Pad by the door.
The smart paint on his wall
Began to play Fellini’s picture. (Small
Dead spots, where paint had chipped, stood out like stone
In rushing water.) Artists work alone,
The picture seemed to say. It was about
A film director, Guido, wracked with doubt
About his half-formed film, while all around
Distractions—mistress, wife, and actors—hound
Our hero. Hubert liked the lesson: men
Directing films have merely swapped out pen
For megaphone. They pick and place their herds
Of extras as a poet would his words—
Though their words, armed with legs, will often wander
Fellini’s man had paused to ponder
Life. His wife, it seemed, thought he’d outgrown her.
But Hubert liked that Guido was a loner
Floating like a god above the fray.
Of course, he knew that those who brood the way
Fellini’s privileged male director does
Ignore the drones enabling them, the buzz
Of labour on the set. And yet he felt
The self behind each scene. The cult band Felt,
The poet Frost, Fellini—Hubert knew
Their work expressed their souls, which passed clean through
Our sieve-like theories. Souls were real, the art
They made the proof.
The film had reached the part
Where Guido and his wife explore the set
That’s been constructed for the film he’s yet
To start: a giant spaceship’s skeleton,
The sort of ship some blob of gelatin
With tendrils would attack. The science fiction
Of a simpler age. He loved this vision,
Hubert, of a future that would never
Happen now. He pictured it whenever
He imagined what tomorrow might
Be like. Fellini’s spaceship, poised for flight,
Was dated now, a silly dream, but in
Its time, it gleamed. Likewise, a dorsal fin
Was de rigueur when navigating stars
In 1960s Jetsons bubble cars.
And in the novel Neuromancer, human
Beings—jacked in, wearing trodes—would zoom in
On vast tiers of data; outer space
Had been replaced by pre-Zuck “cyberspace,”
Which Hubert figured would’ve looked like Tron:
The ground a grid your avatar slid on.
The futures we prefer have long since passed.
Tomorrow is interred inside the past.
Hubert loved looking back. He’d waved off eye
Replacements; Hubert had a glasses guy
Who sourced assorted old-school gear for old
Souls and their skulls. His frames were bold,
As quaint as whalebone corsets, hunting foxes,
iPhones, and those primitive Xboxes
That weren’t implanted but, instead, sat on
Your furniture. He loved the off-brand dawn
His window ran, recorded when the sun
Could still be seen. He loved such stuff as Fun
House, Horses, Astral Weeks, The La’s, Pet Sounds,
Thomas Disch’s essays, Ezra Pound’s
Translations, Orson Welles as Harry Lime
(The Third Man), poetry that dares to rhyme,
The books of Paula Fox, the bass of Carol
Kaye, that moment when the poet Daryl
Hine compares some “love-disordered linen”
To “brackish water.” Hubert longed for hymns in
Churches, first editions, and constraint.
He loved the room he rented in a quaint
Toronto house. He loved artisanal walks.
(He wouldn’t teleport.) He thought Talk Talk’s
Last record music’s cloud-wreathed apex; Toto
On the mail pad, MOJO
Materialized. (The mail beamed in at night.)
“Pause.” The wall became a black-and-white
Tintype: Fellini’s hero’s face in doubt.
(One eye, where paint had chipped, appeared burned out.)
Hubert watched his mag, like Star Trek sand,
Take shimmering shape, then touched it with a hand:
There was the standard MOJO mix
Of articles, reviews, and concert pics.
There also was an obit for Oasis;
The aging band had fused and perished, faces
Picassoed, mop tops mixed—a teleporter
Mishap while on tour. One shrewd reporter,
Who’d glimpsed the Cubist mess, could not refrain
From wit: the band’s two stars now shared one brain,
Which was ironic; Liam and Noel, rock gods
And warring brothers, spent their lives at odds.
But now their hearts, once split in two, were one
Big mashup of a muscle in a ton
Of flesh—the band’s last huddle.
Noel’s song “Slide
Away” was playing; Hubert had subscribed
To MOJOplus, the upper-price-point version
Of the mag—and Hubert’s main diversion
From the grind of grad school. MOJOplus,
On pixiepaper, was superfluous,
But awesome. If you tapped a tintype (what
His folks once called “a foto”) it would strut
Or speak or turn into a talking head
Voiceovering some footage. If you read
About a song, the page might start to play
Its chords. That said, the reader had no say
In when concentric liquid ripples might
Begin to spread across the text, a white
And foamy head of Stella swallowing
The type; or when the letters, following
Their own discreet imperatives, might swarm
Like filings in magnetic fields to form
A BMW. A barnacle
Of kale might crawl across an article
And bloom into an ad for superfood.
Your MOJOplus could analyze your mood,
Decide you need more sleep, and push a pill
Designed for you alone—bespoke ZzzQuil.
On pixiepaper, type, no longer black
And fixed, could stretch, divide, curl up, go slack,
And vanish. Pics could puddle, spread, and blend,
Like Rorschach blots set loose.
Towards the end
Of every MOJO was the “Buried Treasure”
Essay. This one-page feature took the measure
Of some minor work time had forgot
To, well, forget or scrub from human thought:
The sort of record that was out of print
Or went for hundreds when described as “mint.”
And it was this page, in the June edition,
Hubert later likened to a vision.
Praise for Forgotten Work
"A futuristic dystopian rock novel in rhymed couplets, this rollicking book is as unlikely, audacious and ingenious as the premise suggests."—New York Times
"A wondrous novel."—Ron Charles, Washington Post
"This is no novel for fans of 20th-century CanLit’s plodding linear plots of settling the land and alcoholism. This one is for the boundary pushers and bohos, jazz snobs with their fanatical attention to minutiae that allows them to feel superior to those who do not know about what Bukowski calls 'the thing!'"—Quill & Quire
"Forgotten Work’s biggest pyrotechnic is its form ... Guriel shifts comfortably between his formal constraint and the more prosaic needs of the narrative. Guriel’s formal choice reflects his characters’ obsessions with the past... Through this playful postmodern fictionalizing, Guriel signals the way that our approaches to past works and traditions form flags to rally around."—Canadian Literature
“What do you get when you throw John Shade, Nick Drake, Don Juan, Sarah Records, and Philip K. Dick into a rhymed couplet machine? Equal parts memory and forgetting, detritus and elegy, imagination and fancy, Forgotten Work could be the most singular novel-in-verse since Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. Thanks to Jason Guriel’s dexterity in metaphor-making, I found myself stopping and rereading every five lines or so, to affirm my surprise and delight.”—Stephen Metcalf
“This book has no business being as good as it is. Heroic couplets in the twenty-first century? It’s not a promising idea, but Forgotten Work is intelligent, fluent, funny, and wholly original. I can’t believe it exists.”—Christian Wiman
“Forgotten Work is a novel in rhymed verse, heroically unspooling perfect couplets for almost 200 pages. It’s an SF epic poem, an excellent ekphrastic entertainment for English majors, a figment of imagination made real, and the perfect discovery to make for yourself in the hidden corner of your favorite bookstore.”—James Crossley, Madison Books
"This may be the first rock 'n’ roll novel written in iambic pentameter ... strange and affectionate, like Almost Famous penned by Shakespeare. A love letter to music in all its myriad iterations."—Kirkus Reviews
"A feast of allusions—musical, literary, and cinematic—is the book’s most entertaining aspect, and it speaks to the powerful currents flowing between artists and artworks across disciplines, as well as to the effect of art on its consumers ... Guriel’s bountiful celebration of connections between art finds an inspiring, infectious groove."—Publishers Weekly
Praise for Jason Guriel
“What sets Guriel apart is the inescapable tone of his writing. It’s obvious from reading him: he is having fun … The best of his verse is infused with wit, irony, and the ghosts of his influences.”—Quill & Quire
“Guriel is the consummate stylist, and every poem in Satisfying Clicking Sound has plenty of flourish.”—Maisonneuve
"Like the bumblebee that flies even though it shouldn’t be able to, Forgotten Work’s amalgam of epic poem, sci-fi novel, and deep dive into rock-fandom gets improbably airborne, a feat attributable not only to its author’s large and multifaceted talent, but also to his winning infatuation with the diverse realms his story inhabits."—Literary Matters