Our Summer Reading List & Reviews

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi

Fra Keeler

Dorothy, A Publishing Project, 2012.

Review originally Published in Bombay Gin Literary Journal

by Denise Angelle Kinsley

Fra Keeler

Fra Keeler, by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, makes me think of my past and of my future. I think of death and how my closest neighbor is dying next door. I think of my future death beyond my neighbor’s (or perhaps before). I have so many thoughts—almost as many as the novel’s nameless narrator. Fra Keeler summons thinking that traces back through my own memories and propels me forward to dreams of future events. It is an extended, manic episode through an unnamed character’s exploration of what’s real and what’s true. The narrative suggests that this type of examination should be a person’s raison d’être. While reading, I keep reasoning, “These thoughts are not me, nor do they belong to the narrator, nor the author. These thoughts are not what make up reality.”

The narrator in Oloomi’s book sets himself up for an exploration through his own thoughts on life and death when he intentionally buys the home of a deceased man, Fra Keeler, in order to investigate his death. Upon moving in, the narrator becomes preoccupied with the circumstances and details of Fra Keeler’s death as he wallows in a stream of constant mind babble—both conscious and unconscious. He philosophizes the meaning of life events by honing in on when things happen, how time passes, and why other characters appear when they do. The narrator in Fra Keeler struggles with an infiltration of illusion. At first, he experiences an onset of hallucinations when the mailman delivers a package from anscestry.com. These hallucinations soon move into a perpetual delirium every time the phone rings or someone knocks on the door. The events the narrator creates stem from his mind as both he and the reader move through the story’s landscape. The surroundings become a stage for the narrator to act out his imagination and to investigate the meaning of life and death. He explains how the present doesn’t exist; only the events of past and future are real.

In Fra Keeler, Oloomi lends regard to objective correlation and expresses the narrator’s emotions through thoughts and objects. Her writing captures feelings through object obsession. The skylight in the house is the most prominent object of contemplation. If the skylight reveals the idea of nothingness, it also becomes the guiding light that breaks through all the chatter of the narrator’s mind as he considers the limitations of chronological time:

So, what a lie it is, the present, because it doesn’t even exist. There is only the moving forward of events and the moving backward of one’s understanding over those events. To say there is a present, I thought, is to say there is a platform where events accumulate and then stop happening so one can evaluate their effect. It is what people do, I thought, feed themselves lies . . . the present is always cycling into the past, or transforming into a future moment.

The examination of the skylight makes him (and the reader) contemplate the existence of self beyond the physical realm:

There are certain surfaces from which nothing gets removed, nothing more accumulates. A steady humdrum of nothingness. . . But then thoughts get passed around from brain to brain, so that our thoughts are only ever a repetition of someone else’s thoughts. A thought that came before us and planted itself in our brain as though it belonged to us, inextricable from our being. And that is exactly what the skylight is, I thought: inextricable.

The twinkling of self-awareness within the narrator is just the beginning of a long journey toward self-realization. The narrator and I become inseparable. I cannot distance myself from him. Readers have no choice but to surrender to the constant flow from the narrator’s mind and become witness. There is no escaping it. I emotionally attach to the obsessive mind of the narrator.

As the book progresses, the incidences of the past are overtaken by the narrator’s investigation into the future. At this point, I still believe in time and space, but I become more aware of the distinctions, how they are either cataloged by real-time memory or by distant memory encoded in DNA.

Fra Keeler is an exploration and a performance of human consciousness. It reveals how the mind constructs illusion—such as momentary blindness—by attaching to dreams and memories. Oloomi subtly describes how lies about living in the present moment are only ideas about how to prolong death and eliminate time and space. The narrative extracts memory, conjuring words I once heard from a Zen teacher: “Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering. Holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream. Each moment, life as it is—the only teacher…” Fra Keeler brings attention to the present moment as being a subjective reality rather than an idealistic time warp. Oloomi draws attention to the observer of self and others by showing that it is impossible to disentangle the observer from the one being observed. Fra Keeler = Zen Teacher



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