When I began I Am Free – Saskatchewan writer, wanderer, and musician Del Suelo’s “slow-art” project that combines text and an audio CD in a compact hardcover package – I was perplexed. What was this? Autobiography, I surmised. But by the second essay – or chapter, or linked story – a plot evolved and it began to read more like a novella. Knowing the genre of a text isn’t critical to its enjoyment, but as both a writer and reviewer I’m perhaps unfairly keen to “name that genre”. I quickly came to appreciate the blurred lines and the vagueness (ie: we never learn which Saskatchewan city the story’s set in), especially as they emulate the dream-like text.
I turned to the author’s own website (www.delsuelo.net) for explication, and learned that Del Suelo (aka Eric Mehlsen) describes the text portion of his mesmerizing book\CD combo as a novel. The CD’s ten songs correspond to their same-named chapters. In Del Suelo’s words: “The songs and prose lean on each other in a way that together create a sense of depth that I’ve never been able to formulate with either medium.” Well said, young man.
The first chapter, “By Myself,” introduces Del Suelo’s narrator and protagonist – an urban office worker dissatisfied with his white collar career and uninspired life – meditating on the tiny cactus he bought on impulse. “It took thousands of years for it to become a resilient, symmetrical masterpiece – and now it sits on display as an ornament in my office.” He walks home through the snowy streets beneath a low-lying sun and observes his surroundings. “There’s a pile of snow-covered leaves in the front yard of one of the houses I pass …” It’s non-dramatic, everyday stuff.
Like many of us who live alone, the narrator makes simple meals and plops on the sofa before settling into whatever’s caught his attention on Netflix. He’s lonely, and wades into melancholy. And then there’s an all-night supermarket; a papaya; and a girl with a “vintage lavender jacket with a cheap faux-fur collar,” a lip ring, and a counter-culture lifestyle. Hello! By the end of chapter two I’m tempted to play the CD to discover what the author’s created to accompany this text, but no, reading first, then listening.
Del Suelo’s penned a compelling story. His work’s often poetic (ie: deep melancholy is “like the blackened forest after a fire, or the ruins of a village after a storm”) and frequently insightful (ie: the narrator smokes because he likes “the mild comfort of having something to with [his] hands.”). The book quietly makes a case against accepting the status quo – degree, job, home, materialism. It promotes living solely as “a human with a heartbeat.”
Then there’s the music. I played the CD, then played it twice more. Sublime. The author wrote most of the songs, sings them, and plays all but drums on each. He also produced the recordings. I Am Free is some kind of masterpiece. I’m illumined, Del Suelo. More, please.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM
Download the catalogue here.