Reviewed by Samantha Roth
As I read Christopher Russell’s Sniper, “a sort of Novel”, I repeatedly believed that I had grasped the best description. A cheetos fueled marathon session of Intervention, reality TV at its most guilt inducing? 50 Shades of Grey for the alt-crowd, dashed with Elfriede Jelinek? I persistently puzzled a comparison. The writing was engaging and fluid, but I also felt somewhat terrible, uncomfortable, and a little confused.
Sniper disallows boredom. I love to read, but even with favorite novels, I’ll occasionally find myself counting pages until a chapter’s end. Sometimes you want to move onto a different scene before the author does. In Sniper, this does not happen. At times, I feel like the opposite has occurred. Things keep changing. Made up of many small sections with varying typographies and layouts, the book vertigos through styles and perspectives. Some steadying narrative cues throughout help readers gleam overlaps in the character’s experiences.
Intrigued by the notion of an artist writing a novel for somewhat selfish reasons, I was curious to see which realm this might sit more comfortably within. Switching between a visual mode and one of direct literal address is complicated. Artists who normally traffic in objects and images, at least partially believe that they are superior to a description of those things. When we fall back on language, in press releases or studio visits, we are partially giving in to the pressures of verbal articulation and elocution. What does it mean to choose to write something instead of representing it on a plane, in space?
I’m not sure that Sniper helped me answer these questions. Described as “a perverse version of the classic American love story told through narrative chaos,” Russell’s departure from the genre is far. I often found myself thinking about how deflective the visuals were from the content of the text. I could describe in full detail many of the pictorial choices made in this book: text laid out in a stained glass formation, sentences peeling up from the page in a confusion of dimensions, bloody gothic letters, photos, collage, bright colors, etc – but I couldn’t tell you the narrative order of things. I could share the impression of things that happened, strange and scary things, disgusting and sad, but I couldn’t tell you when and to whom, exactly.
In art, we often crave some collapse of linearity and logic, but in narrative, at least for the most part, we’re looking for some idea of order. Sniper serves a little bit of order, and a little bit collapse, and it’s also simply, a piece of fiction.
Christopher Russell, Sniper, (Bedwetter Books, 2011)
Images: Cover and interior images from Sniper