Novy’s Wielding of Authority

I’m interested in Adam Novy’s engagement of the Bible with The Avian Gospels. He said on Friday that he wanted to write this book, and create it physically, in the same manner that the Bible was composed to generate the sort of false authority that the spiritual text assumes. When he said that, it immediately elucidated some of the confusion I’ve had regarding The Avian Gospels. Indeed, I found there to be something acutely jarring within the first pages of the novel — and I think that sort of feeling is exactly what Novy aimed to generate; things are unexplained, terrible happenings are presented but not justified or explored. I’m thinking about the ending scene with the Swedish mother (who looks like a gypsy) who is giving birth to her son on a storefront table, while her terrified husband clutches her hand. Novy writes: “She would’ve said she loved him if such words did not embarrass her” (pg. 16). And I am left asking – why did these words embarrass her? What seems to be hindering any normal show of support and affection for these people during such a terrifying event? Novy doesn’t clarify and moves onto more chilling description, more unraveling of this alarming plot. And so it seems all the more terrible to me, because so many of my questions are left unanswered, and we are left only to deal with sentences like: “She felt a smile bleed across her face, so odd a feeling. Already, color seeped from the flat plane of her vision as if sucked by a straw” (pg. 17). The angle that Novy seems to be writing from here is a sort of omniscient perspective – the narrator uses “we” and “I” but has the capacity to know and describe the other characters’ experiences. Altogether, with lines like the ones I’ve just pulled out, the passage speaks with an attitude that is unwavering, authoritative. It’s generates questions, but pulls the reader right along to the next piece of action, assuming command — maybe akin to the manner that events and people are presented in the Bible, with its tendency to present tremendous and terrifying events matter-of-factly. Emotions are not explored. And for me, and for most humans, I think, turning to a character to better understand emotion and the human experience is somewhat soothing and reassuring. When plot is presented without this a level of tension is introduced to the reading experience. From listening to him on Friday, this tension seems to be Novy’s very aim. Indeed, when he brought up the kind of deceptive air of control that marks the Bible, I thought of how the word “author” builds the very word “authority.”   

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