"The Sky Conducting" Book Review
Written by Michael J Seidlinger
2012, 308 pages, Fiction
Released on March 1st, 2012
America died while no one was looking. Those words appear on the back of Michael J. Seidlinger's The Sky Conducting and perfectly echo the first paragraph of the novel. With a start like that, it comes as no surprise that the rest of the book is a terrific trip through a devastated, post-apocalyptic landscape and a sharp deconstruction of the archetypical American family. In Seidlinger's capable hands, post-apocalyptic fiction is once again a smart lens through which we can analyze the present.
The Sky Conducting tells the story of a family after the death of the United States. The land is in ruins, society has collapsed, grey ash covers the landscape. The leftovers of what once was a nation are now no more than knickknacks sold or exchanged in an attempt to make them relevant again. Amidst the chaos and destruction, one family remains in their home. Each of the four members has a way of dealing with the annihilation of culture, but inside the home, they all somewhat conform to their preconceived roles: mother, father, son, and daughter. When they leave their residence behind and embark on a journey with a mysterious man named Johan, they dig around the remnants of their culture while being forced to reevaluate everything they think they know.
It's impossible to talk about The Sky Conducting without discussing its unique prose. Seidlinger writes in short, separate sentences and small paragraphs. If you can imagine an elegant, straightforward version of James Ellroy's telegrammatic style, you'll get the idea. However, don't be fooled by the style: while the writing is stripped down to bare essentials, an complete story is being told and the narrative is as comprehensive as any other. Instead of piling unnecessary literary clutter, Seidlinger's work gives the impression of having been constructed the opposite way: by discarding useless words. The result is a book that can says a lot even if you can read it quickly.
More than a chronicle about survival, The Sky Conducting is an entertaining intellectual exercise with an almost archeological value. Seidlinger takes popular culture and explores everything from familial roles and the power of language to escape mechanisms and consumption pattern. Through those examinations, our culture is torn open like a dead frog in the hands of a curious kid with a strong stomach and a very sharp scalpel.
Fans of apocalyptic fiction will get a kick out of this book, but the same can be said for lovers of horror, noir, and even bizarro. The playful use of words, which points to deeper things, mixed with a gloomy atmosphere, bizarre elements (i.e. the father's addiction to drinking ashes), and the mysterious and sinister intentions behind Johan's voyage make The Sky Conducting a very engaging read. Although the critique is always there, the book is never preachy. Ultimately, the scariest thing about The Sky Conducting is that readers might turn the last page and realize that the end of America is already here.