Book Review of What Waiting Really Means by June Akers Seese
You’ve got to really admire Dalkey Archive Press. You really have. Not only do they continually unearth new and interesting literary voices they also publish one of the true British forgotten greats: Ann Quin. This aside, and without turning this into a personal crusade, they have recently republished June Akers Seese’s What Waiting Really Means.
This slight novel, more of a novella really, is one of those books that hits you a couple of days after reading it. The inner nuances need to simmer a while, to mature, until they come surging to the surface once more for you to ponder over.
The book skips, rather fleetingly, from one moment to the next as the narrator observes, retells and ultimately waits for something to happen. In our narrator, Mary (her surname is never revealed), June Akers Seese has created a character that has that wonderful indifference to whatever it is she is doing or communicating to the reader.
There is no presence of June Akers Seese herself within this riddle, there’s no omniscient posturing, no literary tricks up her sleeves, just a voice that emanates upwards from the page like the first waft from good stock. A lost voice, that needs to be understood.
Mary is pure abstract poetry; we follow her as she visits and relives the life of a woman called Margaret whom Mary first met at “a wedding in Hamtramck“ (Pg 13), starts up smoking (cigars) and rides on various buses across vast city sprawls – most notably Detroit. Oh, and she becomes obsessed with a local child killer.
What Waiting Really Means is a study of character, not just that of Mary’s, but of our own. She forces us to ask questions about ourselves. She is subtle in this ploy, yet as strong as anyone in her opinions. Mary is concerned with gender, she is quite dogmatic in her feminism, uttering at one point:
“Men who wear Brookes Brothers Suits and pretend to read books are a step backward, and not far enough back at that. I’d be better off reading a Victorian novel where set patterns and places bring a little consolation and the story line goes somewhere.” (Pg 4)
Rather ironically, or tellingly some would riposte, What Waiting Really means is a book that stands against everything the Victorian notion of characterization, plot and backdrop stood for – What Waiting Really Means is about as anti-conventional as it gets and like all Post-Modern fiction concerns itself, not with overt character development, but with psychogeographical instances and observations.
The whole book is about cities and how we feed from them (Detroit, New York and Atlanta being June Akers Seese’s milieu), just as much as it is about Mary’s obscure thought patterns, frankness and wanderings:
“Out-of-town trips are a luxury that have nothing to do with money. This is it. Right here. Janis Joplin drank Southern Comfort and talked straight up: ’As we say, out on the terrain, it’s all one fucking day, man. Tomorrow never happens’” (Pg 23)
Quite alarmingly Mary suddenly becomes obsessed with a local murderer and the court case that is to follow:
“Each day brings more words and the lines are longer. Nobody else sees the killer as a person. I do. Up to a point, his life and mine are parallel. He pretended he had a job, a life. He pretended something big was going to happen, and finally it did. From there on, we part ways. All those dead boys and crazy sex” (Pg 60)
Mary juggles theses odd feelings with the mixed up relationship she shares with her husband. We begin to see Mary contemplating the very nature of it:
“‘I want a wife, not a mistress,’ my husband told me over the phone. I countered with a word or two about his tomato plants. Sometimes all you have left is one safe topic”.
Such sardonic undertones creep into, and out of, What Waiting Really Means at various intervals. Yet the book still remains terse and abundantly dry. It asks the reader to judge Mary, and ourselves, it demands her actions to be scrutinized, but because these are the actions of the humdrum, it takes a while for these thoughts to formulate – and by then Mary has left you. She is gone forever.
This brusque, witty book is worth digging out – you won’t find it in most book shops (if any at all) and you won’t find many people who have heard of it, let alone read it, but don’t let this gloomy fact put you off.
Take a peek into the world viewed from a different angle. And, just this once, ignore the conglomerates as they spew forth into the literary arena yet another hackneyed historical conspiracy thriller, turn your shoulder on the rabble and pick up this book. You’ll be surprised.
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
Publication Date: 31/03/2005
Number of pages: 88
The editor of The Readers Loft, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.