Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Absolutely Golden by D. Foy. (Stalking Horse Press)
I recently watched Edgar Wright’s new movie, Baby Driver, and it reminded me of an early Tarantino flick. Like Tarantino’s work, it is a fresh take on genres that already exist. Throughout Baby Driver, I kept thinking about the movies Wright borrowed from. It is impressive how someone with the right ear for film (and writing) can take a preexisting form and create something new out of it. D. Foy does something similar in his newest novel, Absolutely Golden. While I read the book, I kept thinking about the Beat movement and how Kerouac and Burroughs were able to tell a story by tying it into a pretzel, but in the end gave the reader something poignant and worth carrying away from their work. Foy has given us a trip with his new work and, while my head felt like a hamster on a wheel, I wasn’t ever disappointed with what I was reading.
Absolutely Golden takes place when Rachel, a late-thirties widow, finds herself in a nudist colony called Camp Freedom Lake and all the eccentric characters inhabiting the place. We feel her reluctance at a base level while she tries to come to terms with the way these people live their lives. She does her best to fit in, but tends to miss the mark—like when she gets a brutal sunburn, incapacitating her for an evening. The lucid moments flutter around the ever-shifting timeline and philosophical moments in this book that self-classifies as “gently surrealistic.”
Late in the book, Rachel finds herself at a gathering thrown by Wolfgang and Usch, a swinging Dutch couple intent on spreading their worldviews to anyone willing to listen—and hilariously referring to themselves as “erotical.” When she first arrives, she hears a jazz quintet playing “their melodious cacophony in the gleam of many torches.” Foy devotes nearly an entire page describing the band playing their music, falling into descriptions like, “Pling, plong, plung, plong, plung, plong, pling went the vibes.” This is something I normally find grating, but goddamn if he doesn’t pull it off. I think the allure of exploring the sound of the band was that, for over a hundred pages, I’d been reading something I had a hard time wrapping my head around. The story seemed to be fleeting, but the moment Foy takes the time to deconstruct jazz—a sound hard enough to put into words—he gives Absolutely Golden a form. Reading this book was like reading an impromptu jazz performance. There are moments in the novel seemingly dropped from the narrative, only to arrive a couple pages—or even chapters—later. The timeline is shifting and I found myself laughing because I didn’t understand why someone was running through the woods in search of unicorns, until in the next chapter we see the reasoning behind the specific action. Once I stopped fighting against it and let the music move me, I began to grasp the novel’s intent.
Like the moving timeline, Foy is providing character insight within mundane conversations. At one point, Rachel is having this revelation about the unique nature of the individual and how once “you started, in fact, looking that is, they became so crazy with peculiarity that you could write a book—the different kinds of blue in a person’s eyes, the varied shapes of human digits, the diversity of teeth, the hue of skin, the ten million textures of hair,” and just as she is about to truly break through we’re brought back to the group she is with and how they need to talk about Donald Duck. This is partly why I think I found the book difficult: the threads are all intertwined, so at times you’re not sure where to frame a specific thought or conversation. We’re consistently dropping in and out of meditative moments and until you get the hang of the flow it can be jarring. But D. Foy is a good enough writer you can let go and trust he’ll bring you along for the ride.
The shifting timeline and the switches in perspective could be annoying if they didn’t exist for a reason. If Foy was simply using these techniques to flex his literary muscles, it’d be a case of style over substance and I don’t think I could get behind the book. But Rachel is a widow and throughout the book she is trying to reconcile the woman she thought she was with her late husband, and who her husband was when he wasn’t with her. These thoughts make her question her own reality and, in turn, learn more about herself. All the twists and turns Foy gives us in Absolutely Golden have a purpose and, in the end, I’m glad I was able to go with the flow.