July 4th, 2016

A Review of Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio, 2015)

July 4th, 2016

Happy July 4th all!

A Review of Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio, 2015)

So, I picked up this book on a whim, thinking I would read it before bed, and put it down after about an hour. Unfortunately, I always underestimate the power of my reading addiction. About an hour into the reading, I was well past the halfway point of the book, and I absolutely needed to see it to the end. Berit Ellingsen is an interesting diasporically situated writer. She’s Korean Norwegian, but writes in English. I’ve been familiar with her work on a nominal level (she’s published a number of other works), but haven’t been able to read any (never enough time is my excuse right?). From the official site: “Brandon leaves his boyfriend in the city for a quiet life in the mountains after an affair with a professor ends with Brandon being forced to kill a research animal. It is a violent, unfortunate episode that conjures memories from his military background. In the mountains, his new neighbors are using the increased temperatures to stage an ambitious agricultural project in an effort to combat globally heightened food prices and shortages. Brandon gets swept along with their optimism, while simultaneously applying to a new astronaut training program. However, he learns that these changes—internal, external—are irreversible. A sublime love story coupled with the universal struggle for personal understanding, Not Dark Yet is an informed novel of consequences with an ever-tightening emotional grip on the reader.” Our protagonist is named Brandon Minamoto and though his ethnic background is never fully revealed, Ellingsen is working with some allegorical elements in this work in a manner not dissimilar to Katie Kitamura in Gone to the Forest. This particular review by John Maher over at Electric Literature I found right on the money: “At the center of Berit Ellingsens debut novel, Brandon Minamoto, a former sniper for an unnamed outfit weighed down by the guilt of many kills. After his service, he moves back to an unnamed city on an unnamed continent, where he puts his keen eye to use as a photographer, and picks up work in a research lab at an unnamed local university. There, he meets Kaye, a charismatic assistant science professor who soon becomes his lover. But after an incident with a rogue owl in the lab that leads to their falling out, Brandon hightails it to a cabin in an unnamed town in the mountains, away from his boyfriend Michael, his brother Katsuhiro, and his guilt.” The key and obviously repeated word is “unnamed.” So many things are left unnamed that I was surprised we even got the name of the protagonist in the first place. The beginning of the novel opens in a sort of frame narrative, as we see that Brandon is in a cabin in some sort of former tundra area that has faced the effects of global warming. We are soon treated to a segment that provides us his background in some sort of military operation in which he felt forced to kill people under often dubious and murky circumstances. After rebuilding his life in relative suburban harmony, he complicates things by engaging in an affair with a professor named Kaye. When that affair ends in a strange moment involving an owl attack, we find ourselves back at the beginning time frame, with Brandon, in the cabin, using that northern location as a place to sort of think about what is most important to him and what he wants to do with his life. While there, his neighbors request to use the land around the cabin for agriculture, insisting that wheat and other such plants can be grown with success (due in part obviously to the climate change issues). The plot begins to gain more urgency, as it becomes apparent that Brandon is still interested in Kaye and manages to find ways to bump into him. Brandon also begins to pursue a life long dream: to become an astronaut and applies to a new training program. I didn’t see the concluding arc coming at all, but the logic of one of the major plotting pivots (related to Kaye) somehow fits because everything is so stark and naturalistic, and people’s true motivations never seem to be revealed unless an occasion calls for such transparency. Ellingsen seems intent on giving Brandon a chance for redemption, but the options provided are limited and problematic at best. Ellingsen also weaves in a number of obvious external referents in this particular novel, one of which was the infamous and unexplained Elisa Lam death; Lam was depicted in a strange, viral video looking out of an elevator, as if trying to evade some sort of force. Her body was later found in a hotel’s water tank; the circumstances around her death became the subject of a number of conspiracy theories. Ellingsen’s brief mention here of that particular incident seems particularly useful to situate the novel’s exploration of larger themes concerning chance and destiny, agency and knowledge. An intriguing, philosophically driven work.

The Review over at Electric Literature:


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