Bubble Chamber, By Dave Kress, 364 pgs.

Dec 13, 2019

I’m sure Dave Kress would laugh at me if I called him uncompromising or applied other such adjectives to his body of work. After all, Kress is something of a maverick, delighting at poking convention—and its wisdom and rules—in the eye. This comes across in his fiction. Since his debut novel Counting Zero, released in 1999, Kress has consistently written inventive and thorny work which demands a reader’s full attention (and wit). His previous one, Hush, was a beast of a book, in which the protagonist allegedly met the creator of the universe and wrote her own version of a sacred text, casting her life as parable. In Bubble Chamber, Kress spins two novellas, but the relatively short lengths belie their depth.

In Buda and Pest, Kress uses a first person plural narration to detail the lives of a ragtag group of Hungarians struggling to live their lives in a warzone occupied by Nazis in 1945. The narrative style, a sort of chorus of lost souls, spends time doting on each of the group’s characters, unfolding aspects of each personality as they navigate the dilemmas that war—and love—bring. Each sentence here is laboriously crafted, loaded with gags as the plurality uses, and draws attention to colloquialisms (and get ready to never hear the word “Wichita” the same again!). The structure and impact here both remind me of Locos, the metafictional novel by Felipe Alfau.

In Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Kress goes full postmodern, casting a wide, willfully fractured web in the form of a murder mystery involving a lab technician using an assumed name. Here, Kress mixes up the storytelling: handwritten notes, annotated bibliographies, news stories, fortunes from cookies, and fridge magnet poetry all swirl and—if you do it right—coalesce. Remember that book House of Leaves that everyone was so high on a few years back? Kress’s stuff is in the bus to that ballpark. Like Kinbote maybe (or maybe not) being an alter ego for someone else in Nabakov’s Pale Fire, there might be something else lurking under the surface in Fads and Fallacies. Or maybe not. Kress is a master of form, and part of mastery is mockery, making readers re-evaluate priorities and assumptions. Just because the work is serious and effective doesn’t mean that the reader (or the author) has to take things seriously all the time, like Black Flag said on the radio tapes on the CD version of the unreleased five-piece demos. Kress’s fiction demands that you ask questions about why and when you’re both being serious.

If you like your fiction challenging and intelligent, Bubble Chamber is a great introduction to a body of work by an underrated American novelist. Check out Dave Kress’s stuff to find one of the freshest, funniest voices in fiction. –Michael T. Fournier (Mammoth Books, 7 Juanita St., DuBois, PA 15801, mammothbooks.org)