Humans are a haunted race. All our yesterdays are very much with us today; we live within the pasts we think we have left behind. And every day we build more places, real and imagined, where memories can mutate into fears and hopes can rot but never die. In One Morning, Jessica Hagy lets us spend 12 hours, from midnight to noon, with twelve women in the once-was small town of Gour Borough. It’s an astonishing accomplishment, a novel that follows one perception after another to craft a vivid portrait of environmental memory echoing from one decaying life to the next. Disturbing, poignant and alive with the beauty of human struggle trapped in economic runoff, One Morning is a page-turner that ends up haunting the reader.
Gour Borough, we are told at the outset, was once a coal town, but since the mines ran dry, it’s been abandoned by the company that created the slowly collapsing tunnels beneath it. Those who remain behind are likely never to leave. It is collapsing upon itself.
We first meet Helena, sewing yak fur to create an exquisite wild-man costume for an unknown client. She’s a dedicated artist, and yes, her artform – creating non-existent creatures with bits of taxidermy sewn together imaginative is a bit creepy. But we want to like her. Her other hobby mitigates against this. As Hagy introduces the rest of the cast in her novel, those who have come before show up on the background of later characters.
Hagy manages the very difficult trick of writing a novel without a central (human; Gour Borough is at the center of it all) character that is not only cohesive but increasingly compelling to read. Be prepared for a long night or two reading this, and for those that follow to simply seem longer. Unrest assured, you’ll be quite aware for the shadows around you after your time in Gour Borough. You’ll be quite aware of the shadows you cast.
Hagy is well-known for her work in the blog and comic Indexed. Her talent for simplifying complex ideas and wisdom is apparent in One Morning, but the intricate and accomplished levels of the prose and plotting are masterful. Shades of Flannery O’Connor meet the unfortunate modern environmental concerns Jeff Vandermeer. Her prose is bubbling with the deformed life of those who still live in a past few of us can recall. While One Morning is not in any standard sense genre fiction, it has the creepy feel of the best ghost stories. But there are no ghosts in Gour Borough. The landscape and those who inhabit it, though, are clearly haunted. Those who read it will feel honored to have spent time in a part of reality they would with good reason avoid. We all have our own ghosts to deal with, one hour at a time.
A note for readers; the publisher, Tartarus Press, creates wonderful books in small quantities. They are worth the price; but Tartarus also sells ebooks in all formats of the same work. In any format, this is easily one of the best books of this year, and a few others besides.
Here’s my a link to myconversation with Jessica Hagy about One Morning, How to Be Interesting, business graphics and Indexed. It’s spoiler free.
Or, listen below if you like.