Review by Elsie Ohem
White space. An erasure. is so empty. says more than written
Anticipation is key to Carol Guess’s F IN. So is tension. An erasure provides more than just tension and anticipation—it gives the reader agency in a story’s creation. You become the illustrator of the author’s blanks.
In the introduction, Guess describes F IN as an incarnation of a ghost story manuscript. She notes that part of her aesthetic demands things to be left unsaid or blank. This is apparent in the story’s many blank spaces, or whitespace. What is left blank is filled in with the reader’s imagination. In this sense, F IN is still a ghost story in that what imprints are left behind are realized through the reader’s imagination. By saying that ghosts are realized through the imagination does not diminish the possibility of their existence.
Reading F IN took me no more than 10 minutes. It’s that short. But the blankness stays with you beyond those 10 minutes. I re-read it twice, each time meditating on, and experiencing, a different ghost. The tension created was surprisingly sublime. It was that intense. This tension was perfectly timed by Guess’s composition, or the printed words she left behind for us to read. You are forced to journey at a specific pace with each word and space at your imagination’s mercy. I would claim to say that the rhetorical quality of this work is extremely kairotic. Guess expertly plays with the kairos of each blankness by utilizing every opportunity to create moments of strong thought and memory. It’s difficult for me to put the blankness into words without telling you to read it yourself, but perhaps this visualization can say more:
The moment of good chances is kairos—translating from the Greek as “opportunity.” In rhetoric, kairos is something that speakers evaluate within themselves as well as in their environment when in debate—it is easily described as evaluating the perfect, opportune moment to take action. The actions left behind in F IN are the words in black. as well as their literal and metaphorical meanings. As you fill in the blanks, you find that the black text left behind is connected, regardless of the space in between. Read as a whole, F IN tells a story of texture, landscapes, emotions, and physicality that is so innate you know it’s felt by all beings, secrets, intimate touches, community, loss, pain, sounds, and endings.
Let’s not ignore the fact that F IN in latin means “end.” It’s a FINality that marks the end of a FINal boundary or limit. Yet, F IN isn’t just marking ends—it would be a cliché for me to say that it also marks beginnings. A better way to say it is that F IN marks the unsaid that was once there—that once existed. It could be thought of as a “sideways” or the “what if” in the entirety of the manuscript. F IN is the “what would this story say if I blanked out these words”? The result is something hauntingly memorable.
Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Tinderbox Lawn, Darling, and Doll Studies: Forensics. She is a professor of English at Western Washington University, and lives in Seattle and Bellingham, W.A.