From award-winning playwright and filmmaker Jordan Tannahill comes a masterful and moving novel in the tradition of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station and Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be.
At 11:04 a.m. on January 21st, 2017, Jordan opens the door to his mother’s bedroom. As his eyes adjust to the half-light, he finds her lying in bed, eyes closed and mouth agape. In that instant he cannot tell whether she is asleep or dead. The sight of his mother's body, caught between these two possibilities, causes Jordan to plunge headlong into the uncertain depths of consciousness itself.
From androids to cannibals to sex clubs, an unforgettable personal odyssey emerges, populated by a cast of sublime outsiders in search for the ever-elusive nature of self. Part ontological thriller, part millennial saga, Liminal is a riotous and moving portrait of a young man in volatile times, a generation caught in suspended animation, and a son’s enduring love for his mother.
About the author
Jordan Tannahill is a playwright and filmmaker currently living between his hometown of Ottawa and London, UK. His work has been presented in theatres and festivals across Canada and internationally. He won the 2014 Governor General's Award for Drama for his book Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays and was shortlisted for the prize again in 2016 for Concord Floral (also a recipient of the 2015 Carol Bolt Award). Tannahill's book Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama (2015) was called "essential reading for anyone interested in the state of contemporary theatre and performance" by The Globe and Mail, and is on the curriculum of several North American universities. Tannahill has been described in the press as "the future of Canadian theatre" (NOW Magazine), "the hottest name in Canadian theatre" (Montreal Gazette), and "the posterchild of a new generation for whom 'interdisciplinary' is not a buzzword but a way of life" (The Globe and Mail).
- Commended, A 49th Shelf Book of the Year
Excerpt: Liminal (by (author) Jordan Tannahill)
I am wary of revelations. I find anyone claiming to have them dubious. They’re usually charlatans, the ultra-religious, or insane (not that these three types are mutually exclusive; in fact they rarely are). And I find any description of these revelations some combination of sinister and comical, like John Smith receiving golden plates from the angel Moroni in a secret language only he can translate. Even the words “revelation” and “epiphany” are mired in Christian connotations. The first conjures images of John on the island of Patmos having visions of the Whore of Babylon and the Beast, while the second is the realization by the wise men that Christ is the Son of God, rendered throughout art history as the Adoration of the Magi.
I suppose the synonym that feels the least corrupted by spiritual chicanery is “eureka,” and yet this word feels burdened by the mythos of masculine scientific discovery, from Archimedes fateful bath to Newton’s gravity-weighted apple (why do I always imagine it hitting his head?) Darwin said he could remember the exact moment during a carriage ride in which he was struck by his “hunch” about natural selection. Nikola Tesla, while recuperating from a recent breakdown brought on by his obsession to solve the mystery of alternating current, was on a walk with a friend in Budapest’s Varosliget Park when he was pierced by his moment of insight. Tesla was looking into the setting sun whilst reciting a passage from Goethe’s Faust (naturally) when a vision of a functioning alternating current electric induction motor appeared to him with such clarity that he grabbed a stick and drew a diagram of it then and there in the dirt. One can almost hear the angelic choral accompaniment. Perhaps because of these bearded white men and their long lineage of eurekas the word has acquired a certain sense of finitude: they each had a question and in an instant it was answered. As if, through years of research and inquiry, their minds were already filled with the necessary information and all that was required was that final synaptic connection to illuminate the network of association.
A word that seems part of this revelatory cohort is “vision,” which again has religious undertones, but also the unfortunate limitations of its sensory association. A vision suggests something that is seen, either literally with one’s eyes in a new way, or seen within the mind’s eye. As the ever-favoured child of the senses, we seem inclined to give seeing undo credit as the conduit of discovery. Though as Proust might agree, throughout my life I’ve probably had more ‘visions’ induced by smell than any other sense. For me, a new awareness is rarely an apparition to be seen or viewed; it does not appear to me like Tesla’s motor. It is something that is felt. An awareness that dawns and slowly spreads its light through my body.
What I seek is a word that does not suggest a long-sought for answer but rather a deluge of questions. A word for kind of illumination that recalls a caver holding a torch up in an underground chamber and apprehending a few dashes of rock wall at a time, uncertain of how far the cavern extends into darkness.
Counter-intuitively, I found something approaching this word in the Bible. The first word in the Book of Revelations — and from which it derives its name — is apokalypsis, which in its original Korine Greek means "unveiling" or “revelation.” I find the notion of ‘unveiling’ — of an encounter, smell, sight, sensation that unveils an infinite system of questions and discoveries (which in turn spur more questions) — to be the most vivid evocation of this I can find. I might be even inclined to use the original Greek apokalypsis, as it seems to contain the possibility of discovery in the moment of destruction. Much like the theatre; an art revealed in the moment of its disappearance. And like life itself, theatre can not be rewound or reread; it exists in the temporal present between being and un-being, in what Plato calls the “something inserted between motion and rest (. . .) in no time at all.” An art conjured in the instant of its erasure. And I like the almost preposterous gravity of the world apokalypsis; how it’s cataclysmic and eschatological associations seem to mimic the way in which one world seems to end and another begins in a moment of newfound awareness.
But in this instance, for what I’m about to articulate, “unveiling” is the apt word. It conjures for me the image of a man in white gloves pulling a cloth of a painting; the removal of a covering that concealed that which was there all along — something which has been rendered ever more extraordinary by the very fact of its concealment. Rather than by divine conjuring, “unveiling” suggests a moment of discovery arising from matter-of-fact and mortal circumstances. A new way of experiencing something already in the world.
In this way, the world is constantly unveiling itself; a stand of trees seen from a fresh angle, the laugher of a dog, a nameless colour, new patterns of movement, of light, of behaviour, patterns in fabric, in birds, in traffic, in music . . . In this way “revelation” is not something a bearded white man once an epoch apprehends but rather a state of becoming that imbues all things at all times. Of course to be in a state of perpetual unveiling is exhausting and disorienting; it’s essentially the way we moved through the world as babies, when everything was revealed and nothing was legible. Gradually, to make sense of the chaos, we fixed things in place, we fixed meaning, we fixed potential, we fixed objects and people and places as knowable and predictable entities and attempted to reduce the instances of unveiling because those upset the order by introducing new variables into the mix. Unveiling, by nature, un-fixes.
This is what happened at 11:04 a.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2017 when I walked into your bedroom and saw your body in bed. In a moment something — perhaps everything — became unveiled. And I became unfixed. It was a moment that lasted less than a second. The interval between a hand feeling water and the pain of it’s scalding heat; between sense and sensation.
Authors such as Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, among others, are showing their exhaustion with plot, opting to be candid, probing, philosophical, and discursive at a micro-level on the page. Toronto playwright Jordan Tannahill’s lushly intelligent debut novel, Liminal, is an exciting addition to this school . . . Liminal captures something illuminating and undefinable about the present moment . . . A real jaw-dropping intellectual feat . . . A rich and unusual story.
Globe and Mail
Tannahill is a good writer, a natural storyteller with a strong sense of narrative rhythm as well as the ability to launch into almost mystical flights of poetic vision.