The Lost Novel by James Shea

...In Fact Full of Everything

reviewed by Justin Grogan

James Shea’s second masterpiece, The Lost Novel, came out last November from Fence. I had just finished reading Star in the Eye and immediately pre-ordered The Lost Novel. I have been sitting on it since then, and it has become a permanent occupant inside my book bag.

The Lost Novel is always with me for its ability to offer new perspective on a world I often take for granted—a world where I am constantly faced with the loss of a moment. What James Shea has to offer is a lesson in seeing. In his title-sequence poem “The Lost Novel,” we are faced with the ever-changing nature of our world: “I wrote you once for years. / I called you many names.” The ambiguous “you” can be implied to be the lost novel, or perhaps our past and the way our development shapes who we are today and who we are to become tomorrow. The past is represented by the line, “I still have all my notes,” and the future seen in number nine, the last part of the sequence.


            Multiple afterwards:
            The sun sticks to the sky.
            A boy deep in the wood
            stops, stares down a dirt path,
            cap snug on his forehead,
            knees pink—looking fellow!
            Now I’m emotional.
            Go back the way you came,
            original person.

Right away, the line “multiple afterwards” calls attention to the multiple possibilities of our future, its unpredictable nature, and yet so definable, a cause and effect measurement of choices made in the past. I am also immediately reminded of a poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.” Robert Frost’s line, “Two roads diverged in a wood,” has the same sensibility as “A boy deep in the wood / stops, stares down a dirt path.”

In fact, I would say it is safe to say that The Lost Novel is very much concerned with choice. There are four sections titled A, B, C, and D, with a fifth section titled Air and Water Show, which originally appeared as a chapbook from Convulsive Editions. The fifth section is entirely made up of multiple-choice questions, with four definitive a, b, c, and d choices. This is one of the reason’s The Lost Novel remains in my bag; I have the choice to open the book at any moment, on any page, and explore from that entry point. Every poem has its own feel or flavor, whether that is form or content. James Shea keeps the variety coming, all the while weaving together a bigger picture of the journey in the face of absence. The poem “Supervenience” addresses the idea of the moment head-on. “My deadened life / mocked me as I lived it,” speaks to the difficulty or suffering we all face day to day. However, there is solace in the idea that “Naturally, the journey has its impact.” And as the speaker recalls a dream, “Hello, you. / Welcome to my continuous birthday,” I am forced to think of every moment as a mini re-birth of the self.

I believe James Shea wrote a poem that aptly defines what you will gain by reading his book. It appears on page 41 and is called “Rain’s Misstep.”

            Rain said, No.
            Rain said, Get
            the fuck out.
            Rain said, You’re
            wrong. Rain said,
            You’re wet wet.
            Rain said, that’s
            it. Rain said,
            Keep walking. Rain
            said, Raise your
            arms. Rain said,
            They will be
            heavy. Rain said,
            You will learn
            to suffer better.

By the end of The Lost Novel I feel that I have learned to suffer better, and what I mean by that is what I believe James Shea means by it—that absence is all around us, and so is loss—but by that reasoning there is an inverse of something right. To have a glass of water half full is actually an inaccurate perception. The glass of water is in fact full of everything, simultaneously water and air, as well as a million other particles. If there is loss, there is also gain, and James Shea uses his unique perception to teach us to see these macro and micro moments simultaneously as he focuses in an out on the world.