The narrator in Thomas Rayfiel's new novel, In Pinelight, is an old man attempting to piece together fragmented memories of a small-town life.
Responding to questions from an unseen interrogator, the elderly man's sentences are presented as an uninterrupted, often rambling stream. With little punctuation and a gushing flow of natural, emotional consciousness, Rayfiel's unconventional writing style seems to leap off of the page. And for a few months this fall, the novel's words were unbound from the book and transformed in a New York exhibition called "Scrolls from In Pinelight."
Thanks to the dedicated, steady hand of actress Rebecca Spiro, 8,452 words of In Pinelight were written out on a half-mile of thermal receipts, a quarter of which lined the walls of Maybelle's, a small cafe in Brooklyn, New York.
"The idea was to capture and transmit the meandering current of the narrator's voice, while toying with the way readers encounter stories," writes publicist David Bukszpan in an email.
"It needed to be direct, honest, and intimate. Plain, handwritten words, one after another, unbroken as much as possible by line-breaks or page-breaks, seemed the appropriate way not only to convey the unusual poetry found in the narrator's stream of words, but to echo the run-on sentences and sentence fragments that comprise the novel's unconventional style."
(Photo courtesy Ryan John Lee)
Bukszpan's first vision was to line the Brooklyn Bridge with the half-mile of scroll. But when government red tape obstructed that plan, Bukszpan turned to the more intimate space.
In Maybelle's, the scrolls unfurled and wrapped around and around the small, boxed, brick space. The edited installation — 2,568 words, or 1,000 feet of scroll — start at the beginning of the novel, but depending on where you stand in the cafe, you might pick up any number of threads. Such as this alluring nugget:
We didn't tell anyone because of her father. He didn't approve. Represented I don't know what I represented to him what are you talking about? I was courting his daughter and he disliked me didn't think me fine enough for her represented besides he's the one who turned out to be the troublemaker. No it was all so long ago I don't want to talk about it. Oh so you know how do you know? Yes the court case. I didn't think anyone remembered. It broke Emily's heart. I'm sorry Alice. Alice's heart. It happens. I get names mixed up. We hadn't had Emily yet or if we did she was too young to understand. You ask me things you already know the answer to are you trying to catch me out in a lie? Why did he disapprove? Too good for me he thought that she was too good for me but I proved him wrong I provided I made deliveries in weather much worse than this this isn't even snow this isn't the kind of snow we used to have. [In Pinelight]
The scrolls, pre-installation, rolled out in Rebecca's apartment as she completes the task. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Spiro)