Hymns to Misunderstanding


Having captured this Mathews omnibus, I didn’t begin reading immediately. How much time passed before I entered, via The Conversions, the Mathewsian orbit? (Surely my journals from the period could help me pin down the date—if only I could find the journals.) It hardly matters. The book had been waiting in the store for me; it had been waiting in its tangible form for 22 years; it has sat on my shelf, in five different homes, to be consulted again with pleasure. “Mathews’ work is virtually indescribable in brief,” the back cover stated, then went on to do so: “His is a genius of wild invention presented in a kind of meticulous deadpan narration that leaves the reader howling, amazed, and exhilarated.” It is not hyperbole. The Conversions begins with an impenetrable ideogram, a circular maze sealed off completely, no way in or out. From the start, the prose exudes an eerie and compelling calmness. In quick order, the narrator relates a racing competition of Rousselian strangeness (an intricate affair combining woodwinds and worms) and then meets a novelist who provides a summary of his book The Sores, in which three early music enthusiasts try to survive a polar plane crash.

more from Ed Park at The Quarterly Conversation here.