"You With Your Memory Are Dead" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Civil Coping Mechanisms
Written by Gary J. Shipley
2016, 122 pages, Fiction
Released on March 4th, 2016
Sometimes you start reading a book and its combination of weirdness and intensity blows you away. At that point, if you’re a fellow book reviewer, you remember you’re going to have to review it and insecurity invades your system like a bad cold in the middle of winter. That’s when real professionals do their work and amateurs skip the review and immediately delve into a less bizarre and challenging narrative they can easily digest and analyze. If you take the preceding words as the truth, the lack of reviews of Gary J. Shipley’s You With Your Memory Are Dead is easy to understand. This book is strange, dark, dangerous, brave, and perplexing. Equal parts literary/psychological experiment and celebration of language through insanity and free verse.
To understand what Shipley has done here, it helps to have seen, or at least to know a bit about Begotten, the dark/gory/silent/experimental film directed by E. Elias Merhige. After watching it again in preparation to read the book, it became clear how Shipley’s experiment could easily bring him to the brink of insanity. Begotten is an orgy of chaos, bloodshed, and horrific imagery set to disturbing sounds that range from crickets to static. What Shipley did is best described in the book’s introduction, written by Merhige:
“When Mr. Shipley first shared with me his desire, to lock himself in a room with nothing but Begotten playing in a loop cycle, watching its images over and over again for two weeks, isolating himself from any outside influence, taking no interruption or break except to sleep, it seemed like a recipe from the writers of the old testament prophets manipulating and isolating all sense so they may unfettered by the noise of the everyday unearth their experience of the divine; Gary’s approach to making Begotten his own in a ritual of creative-conscious engagement is a decision to no longer passively “watch” Begotten but to enact and digest within his own being a ritual which would remake the film inside his very temple of earth, his body.”
The result of this is a book that full of poetry, disjointed images, scalpel-sharp sentences, bizarre concepts, and something akin to evisceration of God and self. The writing is a mixture of arterial blood and impenetrable blackness. Shipley gets very close to the edge of sanity, and it turns out that’s precisely where the wildest ideas reside, where “the edges blur on imaginability.” You With Your Memory Are Dead is uncomfortable to read and demands constant focus in order to effectively digest the barrage of introspection, horror, and philosophical carnage that’s thrown at the reader.
It’s obvious that the film had a profound effect on Shipely. With each page, his psyche is a bit more unhinged and his writing slightly more deranged. Eventually, the space the author occupies, his mental state, and Begotten become some inextricably linked that the writing reaches a unique balance between absolute clarity and madness:
Because the room is articulated, and its lines limbs on arthropods translucent and receding.
Because the pipework surfaces.
Because no rooms are ever empty. Because rooms unmake the empty.
Because architecture is ghost-making.
And it leads us to where it can’t be seen. Where if we looked we wouldn’t see it. A place where both locations can be seen to coexist.
You With Your Memory Are Dead occupies an empty space in contemporary literature because it belongs equally to horror and literary fiction while also blurring the line between experimental fiction and the place where film/film studies and celluloid meet. This is a strange, ghastly, and uncomfortable read with passages that are very close to Begotten and others that could only come from the mind of the author once being locked up with those images stopped being new and fun. That mixture of elements make it required reading for fans of weird literature, horror, and art films. Just don’t lock yourself in a room with it.