An Atlas of Lost Causes
by Marjorie Stein
2011, 112 pages
An Atlas of Lost Causes by Marjorie Stein pulls the reader into a rich, internal world where perception is doubled and "stars are just dead light—falling behind schedule." As her poetic noir unfolds, quotidian detail accumulates as evidence of human scenarios bleeds into the infinite: "You know how sometimes, at night in a city, you may hear someone crying out in distress? The stains were that sound and shape, spilled in a darkness that smashes into awareness." At the core of the work are the narrator's attempts to understand the mystery surrounding her twin sister and an unnamed crime. Her contemplations circle around references to camera obscura, Muybridge photographs, Marlene Dietrich, and more—all in an effort to fathom how each human life must eventually end. Yet as the narrative progresses, the reader is led to wonder: Is it the twin's disintegration, or the narrator's, we watch unfold? Original line drawings accompany the text.
“The murder mystery presented as an asymptote: throughout her exquisitely careful, relentless layering of stunning phrase after stunning phrase, we feel Stein getting closer and closer, forever approaching the impossible and unidentified crime that she’s exploring ever more minutely all the time. Her tools of exploration are a twin sister, a camera obscura, one-way ephemera, an iridescent death, and much, much else, all set on the trail of all that cannot be named, or our desperate desire for it. A jubilantly haunting work.” ~ Cole Swensen