In one of the first stories of Chris Campanioni’s Drift, there is a photographer named Jared Garrett who repeats over and over again his desire to capture everything, going so far as to wonder – beneath a purple sky, listening to coyotes howl in the distance – if he could capture the silence within a moment. This character’s fervent aspirations reflect what the author seems to be attempting throughout the rest of the book: to capture the things we cannot see, to describe what we have no words for. Campanioni digs deep, weaving together the mundane and familiar as well as the bizarre and glamorous in ardent pursuit of the right words that could express feelings within moments where most people simply say, “You had to be there,” or, “you have to experience it to know.” Here is how a character describes blacking out:
I often have these fainting spells. In bars, hotel lobbies, concert halls. In the passenger seat of a cruising taxi, doing fifty, maybe sixty, hands and head out the half-held sliding translucence. Flickering black spots weave in and out of focus like cue marks in an old film. Imperfections of reality. My soul contracts until my body crumples to the floor. . . Either I suck in life too fast, or too much, or too often. Or life sucks me dry. A hiccup in the vacuum of eternity. I am choking.
Drift weighs in at just under five hundred pages and carries the weight of a lifelong journey, although somehow managing to not feel bloated. I read this one in the same amount of time I take to consume most novellas, and I’m sure it’s due to the hypnotic (and, at times, chaotic) nature of the prose. Chris Campanioni uses every tool in his arsenal to just say what he needs to say, not shying away from parentheses or shifts in point-of-view or even footnotes. And, somehow – I don’t know how the fuck he pulls this one off – it doesn’t come across as rambling. All of it makes sense, even the sudden bursts of poetry that pause the story in the middle of a sentence.
A fog so thick it sinks you. The dirt and the wind and the current from the river just in the distance, lapping like an echo in your ears, damp and red from the sweat and the cold. . . The sound of your own footsteps, each breath and each step so in sync as to forget which is which, the body and what’s leaving it.
It’s largely due to this attack of experimental yet digestible use of language that I’m not positive what to consider Drift. Is it a novel that spans multiple relationships across multiple dimensions? Is it a collection of stories carrying a similar tone? I don’t know. I grew up next to the Gulf of Mexico, and my family would go to the beach often. My siblings and I – against the wishes of our parents – would swim out from sandbar to sandbar, trying to get as far as we could before being yelled at to swim back in. We were stung by jellyfish, wary of sharks, and sometimes shoved under by waves we didn’t see coming. There was an excitement as well as a serenity to drifting out into the ocean, though – a sort of poetry in escaping our natural habitat on the shore. This book conjures that same excitement and serenity, as well as that same tension that there may be sharks swimming just below your feet. Novel, short story collection . . . doesn’t matter what you call it, this book will one day be considered a classic.
by Chris Campanioni
King Shot Press; 464 p.