Friday, February 24, 2006

Imagined Places. Geoff Dyer: The Search

I recently re-read Geoff Dyer’s novel “The Search." It reads like a cross between film/detective noir and road movie, but what stood out in my mind was the homage to Italo Calvino, specifically to his novella “Invisible Cities.” I love the allegory of the cities that Calvino describes in his book. It is a collection of short stories, sometimes a page or less, that describe real and imagined cities or aspects of them. Calvino’s book so captured my imagination that I have followed that vein in literature ever since. Dyer’s novel makes an excellent companion to “Invisible Cities.” In fact, I was turned on to Calvino by reading a blurb written by John Updike stating that Calvino provided carefully imagined stories on par with Borges and Marquez, who are both related

Dyer’s novel starts out in what might be the Bay Area in San Francisco. As the narrator travels in the story, he goes to places that could be American towns and cities, such as Chicago and New Orleans and to others that sound as if they are based on Italian cities. One town sounds like he is describing a photograph of a busy cityscape. Another city is a large museum or palace. I wish it would just keep on going, describing ever more cities and places in the search. True to the homage, the plot is thin; the search of an illusive man is almost beside the point. It provides a narrative thread to for the story. In fact, the sightings of the man the narrator seeks link a trail much like the effort the narrator and a film maker engage in to trace the figure though a series of thousands of photographs taken in a city on a single day. One gets the sense that Dyer is reliving some of his travels. He lived in San Francisco and New Orleans and traveled through much of America and Europe.

I’ve read several other Dyer books. His last novel is about photography. The one before is a travel book, called “Yoga for Those Who Can’t be Bothered.” He has a wry sense of humor and an eye for detail while maintaining a tight prose style. He resonates with me on the story level, and the fact that he has similar interests to mine. I look forward to his next novel.