Book Review: Calibration 74 by William F. Aicher

I knew this book would be for me as soon as I read the description: an experimental, poetic, flow-of-consciousness exploration of reality, fantasy and all the spaces in between. Yes please!

This is the kind of book you bring yourself to, in that you’re never 100% sure whether your experience is what the writer intended or whether you pasted your own meaning over the top of their words. There’s enough continuity, enough thread to hang onto, to make the text flow through an arc, but it also leaves a lot to interpretation.

I read this as the narrator delving into and confronting his own psyche. Perhaps it comes from knowing this was written during the first pandemic wave, when many felt isolated and helpless, but I see someone grasping desperately at straws to find meaning; someone left alone with his thoughts and falling deeper into their clutches. He picks at scabs, seeks out dark corners, obsesses over repeating motifs and patterns, and he digs.

There is a sense throughout of everything slowly loosening, slowly losing a grip of reality, as we follow a wild trail of association. The narrator makes the assumption that everything holds meaning; that taking logical steps will lead to the ultimate answer. He pushes on through a point of no return, an ego-death of sorts, and appears to make a commitment to coming back out as something altogether more whole or as mush. He is looking for truth, looking for hope, looking for a way out. I think it’s up to the reader to decide whether he finds what he sought.

As I was reading this, I thought of other books where the landscape is the psyche. It’s probably where the House of Leaves comparisons some reviewers are making come from. I thought of books by Logan Ryan Smith and Kenny Mooney, both masters of this ‘internal monologue as space’ kind of territory. I thought of the movie Pi. But it isn’t exactly like any of those. It’s something weirdly familiar, but all of its own.

Prose-wise, Calibration 74 just sings. It has a strong voice and begs to be read aloud in parts. It is littered with popular culture references, rhymes, myths and motifs. Each chapter (or ‘calibration’) is so short I found myself not wanting to put it down – just one more bite, one more bite. I imagine it could be an experience to read in one sitting, though I took a couple in the end.

I find that books containing odd trails of meaning or synchronicity like this attract such in my life (or at least encourage me to notice coincidences more often). First I found one particular passage extremely close in imagery to something I’d been working on the week before. Then I noticed one of the same number sequences appear in an unrelated document. Finally, a book I was reading simultaneously spoke of the fragmentary novel and the frequency of them including missing cats and declining mental states. So maybe this is a sign that I need to walk that trail. Check out the page numbers, the bookmarks, the footnotes. Find the values of the common words, divide them, multiply them, twist them into the shape of a doorway… 

Find Calibration 74.

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