Brett Gallagher’s Vessel lacerates with a numinous grace and a trembling abundance of gruesomely beautiful sentences, all while defeating notions of a ‘correct’ literary structure as well as other connected viewpoints typically grounded in absolutism. This refreshingly sanguine artist has pieced together a complexity rich in symbol and humanity—and, to be honest, I have developed unease simply from the thought of review. I do not fear naming two of its focal points—Erland and Kjellfrid—just as I do not fear naming perhaps its key focal point: travel via vessels. (Difficulty in interpreting the latter may stem from complications dependent on how one chooses to define my use of the word, travel as well as the multiplicity behind a word like vessel.) My fear rests with my own interpretation, which I will share with courteous vagueness. I will also not ‘liken’ the text to anything—I feel it is not deserving of a ‘likening.’ Immediately different from Loop Loop Endogenous Nightscape (Gallagher’s echapbook publication), Vessel boasts an unlike narration—a narration that presents us with characters and dialogue. The inclusion of characters and dialogue may cause Vessel to appear less intimidating than Loop Loop—more familiar or comfortable. But by the time readers finish “incantation, the scintillant hex unobserved,” they will surely realize comfort’s most apparent absence. They will realize this and move onto portions like “The Magic Lantern” and that’s when they’ll suddenly realize Gallagher’s language is not frustrating or inaccessible, but deserving of much praise.
True, I found portions of Gallagher’s earliest run-ons to be frustrating, but such frustration, I feel, is necessary. The run-ons—the closeness of the lines—all of it feels necessary: “his hand clasped with her hand, is guiding kjellfrid along the coast to his vessel.” I identified Kjellfrid as female and Erland as male upon reading, “kjellfrid closes her eyes and remains,” and though that early identification was confirmed via pronoun association, I still had/have doubts about Erland’s existence and gender. There is evidence throughout Vessel that alludes to Erland’s nonexistence—that he is illusory and nothing more than a projection existing within the mind of Kjellfrid. In “incantation, the scintillant hex unobserved,” Kjellfrid suffers from what I can only determine to be an illusion while she watches Erland stand beside a window. This illusion occurs before Kjellfrid and Erland head out to the fjord. For that reason, I did not attribute the cause of Kjellfrid’s illusions to the trappings of Kjellfrid’s vessel, but I cannot deny that the trappings of the vessel did not enhance what I’m referring to as illusions.
I have chosen to abstain from discussing the vessels themselves for now. I will most likely revisit the subject in the future. All I can say is that, for me, the vessel signified something simultaneously natural and mechanical and dark—something that is not worn, but possessed: “joints of her vessel which are braided hamstrings within finely selected gum tissues and from her vantage point a light that is gooey and foreign impregnates a darkness which creeps on its hands with pelvis turned upward and it is hard for kjellfrid to swallow with trachea attached underfoot . . . ”
I am unsure if my interpretations can be proven, but I believe if an answer exists, it may exist somewhere in the portion of Vessel titled, “an observation.”
In contrast, I also viewed the relationship between Kjellfrid and Erland as a possible radical dualism. Not binary, but unit. Perhaps both characters do exist, but perhaps in ways we remain ignorant to. There are moments within Vessel that read like a ghoulishly prophetic math equation. One passage in particular reads, “a time a period of timelessness a mountain the mountain sunken into abyssal depths a fjord a vessel a two a pair of three a tressel of four in three departed in two reduced to one,” which not only reinforces an idea of multiplicity (as well as subtraction), but also provides readers with perhaps the topography necessary for understanding the relationship between Kjellfrid and Erland.
Again, these are only my thoughts. I cannot deny that I will always welcome the unanswerable. For now, I am satisfied with Vessel’s existence alone, which is anything but mere.