Review by Rebecca Woolston
Miranda Mellis’ book, The Spokes, is a lovely, short expedition into the afterlife. From the opening scene where our narrator steps off a train, we follow her around in a world where she sees her younger self, her mother, her father, and all other lost souls. She follows her mother, Silver, and her younger self. They don’t notice or recognize her, and we find ourselves questioning whether we are seeing memories play out for the narrator. Are we inside a mindscape that is hers; a dreamspace? Both? Mellis’ writing easily convinces the reader that it doesn’t matter where we are, and it allows us to trust enough to journey with it. Mellis soon opens the space for wondering what recognition of memory might cost a person. Loss? Growth?
Without giving too much away, the narrator seems to come to a realization: even in death we can die. This sort of subtle awareness creeps over the reader too, slow and haunting. In life, pieces of the self die, whether necessarily or due to trauma. Perhaps we shed a portion of the self simply because we had a birthday. Or maybe we need to bury a larger portion of the self and remodel the soul. The Spokes presents the reader with a theoretical approach to the afterlife, that there is a space all those lost pieces of the self go. Mellis gives us the possibility that there exists a space where we can revisit disappeared moments, both from our lives and others’. A space not so unlike memory that is shared and open for exploration.
There are times when the language turns lyrical, though in general it is not. Most of the book has a scientific or theoretical tone. Despite that, her language is enchanting. Immediately, we are pulled into this world, “without a sun,” as we step off the train with our narrator. We move through the space and understand the world at the rate she does. Slowly, we understand her parents were acrobats, that the woman she is visiting is her mother, that the child she sees was herself from a time before. We learn too, that here thought often transcends the body, for how can a body exist in a world of sprits, of souls? “I was bodiless, yet looking at something looking. Though it isn’t quite right to say ‘looking’ or even ‘I’: I became a fiction.” Mellis’ language often does what Faulkner’s does: it turns back on itself as it moves forward. Time is not linear, but coiled like a spring.
The Spokes echoes moments of Dante’s levels of Hell, though Mellis’ levels feel more linear, rather that descending. Time is still coiled, the past exists inside of the present, and the present is always becoming the past. But this afterlife exists like rooms one walks through in a house that never ends. A purgatory. The writing is informed and exploratory and teaches us how to travel along in this world. At times it takes our hands. At times, it leaves us, like the narrator, on a bench in a park to sleep it off. Even those who are dead wander, perhaps more than those who are living. Though The Spokes is a short book, it is dense. If you want a read that will haunt the memory of time, pick up a copy of Miranda Mellis’ The Spokes.
Miranda Mellis teaches at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She is the author of five books including The Quarry, The Spokes, and The Revisionist. Her website is http://mirandamellis.com