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The Fractured World
Main Street Rag Press
Reviewer: Kristina Marie Darling
Recently published by Main Street Rag, Scott Owens's The Fractured World depicts the solitary lives of several recurring characters who seek comfort in "failed connections" and "make believe." Written as an ongoing series of portraits, the book explores the varied ways in which individuals experience loneliness, an approach that often blurs the absurd with the poignant. Presenting "fates worse than death" alongside "the liberation of breakfast," Owens creates a world where alienation gives way to wild flights of the imagination, allowing his poems to transcend the limitations inherent to everyday life.
Owens's use of extended metaphors in The Fractured World soon strikes the reader as especially noteworthy. Often employing engaging comparisons in order to convey the speaker's sense of being trapped within a life he or she has created, Owens succeeds at presenting such situations as physically tangible. A poem entitled "The Man in the Bottle," for example, describes a contortionist folding his limbs into a glass jar, suggesting the ease with which the speaker has cornered himself into an ill-fitting existence. Owens writes:
With proper training
Additionally, Owens's juxtapositions of individual works within the collection often complicate this idea of becoming trapped by everyday life. Pairing poems like "The Man in the Bottle" with glimpses into the lives of strangers ("Deceptively Like a Sound"), Owens creates tension between the themes of entrapment and escape, demonstrating that the two can, and often do, coexist:
He spent his mornings calling wrong
numbers collect. Some he spoke to
for hours, lonely people, he thought,
or just confused, willing to accept
any attempted connection. He called
numbers from the backs of trucks to tell them
their driving was fine. He called complaints
departments, lost and found, crime watchers,
time and temperature, 1-800-anything. (26)
Throughout this excerpt, Owens evokes the possibility of evading one's own problems through fleeting glimpses into the lives of others, a theme that recurs throughout the book. As with other poems in The Fractured World, this piece communicates these ideas via a portrait of a single character whose idiosyncratic ways of evading loneliness embody a more universal experience. Invoking "numbers on the backs of trucks" and "1-800-anything" to convey this character's intrusion into the lives of strangers, Owens uses the mundane to illustrate the philosophical, a pairing that remains lively throughout the collection.
The use of an overarching structure in The Fractured World is also impressive, particularly in its seamless weaving together of relevant ideas. Beginning with a wide-ranging vision of loneliness in everyday life, articulated by a cacophony of voices, Owens introduces an everyman figure who embodies these themes, using his story to lend unity to the collection. This character is a working class man who feels unable to connect with others, and the book often presents his narrative as representative of and foundational to the other narratives offered throughout the collection. In a poem entitled "Contagious Norman," for example, Owens writes:
Norman, it seems, is getting around.
Reports are coming in from everywhere.
No longer content with crying on barstools,
throwing up on doorsteps, sniffing the bottoms
of cantaloupe in the Park 'n Shop,
he’s been seen at the mall watching girls
half his age, groaning out loud,
throwing French fries in their untouchable
hair. He's been seen in fast food drive throughs
pounding his horn, sending his meat back
a second time, refusing to lower
his electric windows.... (46)
Drawing parallels between Norman's experience and the characters depicted before him, Owens suggests that this feeling of alienation remains at once highly individual and ultimately relatable. Through descriptions of the character taking on a variety of personas, from the man "at the mall watching girls" to the customer "sending his meat back/ a second time," the poem portrays Norman as representing that more general and human propensity to rebel against one's everyday life. Throughout the collection, the poet uses Norman to embody a variety of common emotions, from the gravely serious to the comical, all communicated in a graceful, accessible style.
After introducing this everyman figure, who becomes an emblem for the themes of loneliness and entrapment, The Fractured World veers toward a sense of resolution. Because a great deal of the work at the end of the book focuses on aging and death, Owens often juxtaposes the mundane with the transcendent, a combination that evokes the wonderment inherent in everyday suffering. He writes in a piece entitled "He Moves About, Standing Now Here, Now There," for instance:
He wants to follow the coastline
until it becomes a river bank, follow
the river until it becomes creek, stream,
fountain bubbling out of rock.
He wants to follow the light that dies into the earth,
the smoke dissolving in the stream of wind.
He knows evening is not a time but a place,
like the end of the line, like time standing still. (63)
Presenting riverbanks and coastlines alongside the end of time, Owens constructs a vision of the natural world that evokes death and rebirth, as well as a speaker who has learned to embrace these ideas. This piece forms a sharp contrast with earlier poems in the collection, which often present tragedy less hopefully. Revealing the poems in this book as a progression, Owens creates a multifaceted presentation of alienation in everyday life, narrated with elegance throughout.
Ideal for readers who enjoy substantial subjects presented in novel ways, The Fractured World is an enjoyable, thought-provoking, and highly memorable collection.