I is another

I is Another

By Elizabeth Johnston

A review of I Is Another by Daniel Sloate

Published on May 1, 2009

I Is Another
Daniel Sloate

Guernica Editions
$20
paper
196pp
978-1-55071-281-0

“Only connect,” wrote E.M. Forster, because that is the only truly important human activity. The underbelly of this desire to connect is disconnection. It’s the ugly thing that makes us run into the arms of others, virtual or not. The existentialists put their emphatic finger on this ugly, disorienting spectre that always walks with us like our shadow and, in the Jungian sense, is indeed our shadow. It’s the self we run from, the self we would do anything not to have to face. It’s the reason why we drown ourselves in rubbish television and drugs and cyberspace – anything so that we do not have to stand still for a moment and admit: I am utterly alone. Period.

I Is Another makes us stand still. This collection of one-act plays is like a brick wall that (insert some magic realism here) slams into us, stops us short, gouges the breath from our very lungs, and stuns us with its unrelenting message that our aloneness is so profound that we can’t even truly comprehend it. And that when we get right down to it, we are alien even to ourselves. The centre is de-centred.

In “Versus,” a woman tries to leave her hybrid grasshopper/son in the care of the “Centre,” the town’s bureaucratic hub (curiously empty except for one secretary). When the mother is asked why she waited so long to report this aberrant offspring, she says, “Finding the Centre is not easy, you know.” In a classically Kafkaesque scenario, the secretary makes the ordeal unnecessarily difficult. In the end, the mother remains in a world where help never materializes, and no one is ever really understood.

Lack of understanding is a continuing theme throughout I is Another. In “A Dwarf for Daddy,” a father is never happier than when he is eating food his wife has cooked for him. Anything that takes him away from this pleasure reminds him of his lot in life, with the half-pig he has for a son, who is kept locked in the dark hayloft. Whenever he is without food, the father launches into disgusting innuendo, and insults the woman he just seconds ago praised for her cooking. How easily the self becomes frightened of reality when the senses are not constantly glutted.

In contrast, sensory deprivation is highlighted in another play, “Mommy Game,” where two children create a magic spell that kills their paraplegic mother, whose tongue was long ago cut out and who endures her husband’s “nightly visits.” In another play, an aging couple sits in the backyard, caught in the routine of their lives. Ghosts of former lovers visit the husband and wife separately and remind them of who they used to be. Though both are disappointed with their marriage, they defend each other against criticism and then walk into their darkened home together. This is the most realistic story in the collection, and the most gentle, but even its gentleness is a criticism of people who refuse to heed Dylan Thomas’s famous words.

Such unrelenting honesty is perhaps best followed by a chaser of Facebook, where dissonant and competing status updates don’t pretend to be the contrapuntal voices issuing from the wasteland of our collective existential angst. Though I am another, there as everywhere, I can at least imagine that most of those who exist in that Facebook world of faux connections are blissfully unaware of how gently they are going into that good nightmare so accurately dramatized by Daniel Sloate in I Is Another. mRb

Elizabeth Johnston is the author of "No Small Potatoes," and teaches writing at Concordia University.

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