A Novel by Jennifer Calkins
Fugitive Assemblage is lyric noir. It takes place in California in 1983. A woman pulls an IV out of her arm, walks out of the hospital and starts driving north. She is bleeding and nauseous and ever aware that there is something in the trunk of her car that is rotting. It is only after she makes her way through Big Sur and Monterey, over the mountains and into the Central Valley, that she discovers where to bury the body, so to speak. Fugitive Assemblage is rigorously loyal to human emotion. Rather than allow the stricture of narrative to manipulate and drive emotion, emotion emerges in Fugitive Assemblage through form and language. In it, the California highway is a skeleton and its flesh is the voices of ghosts. Fugitive Assemblage renders sensation, because emotion is tied with physical experience. It incorporates images. It uses the harmony (or, more often disharmony) of numerous ghostly voices, from women’s diaries of the “westward journey,” to geology texts, Ingeborg Bachman’s poetry, to Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. It draws on science, on family history and on personal trauma to evoke the experience of grief.
Fugitive Assemblage is mysterious, restless, searching, flat out beautiful, and finally, heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve ever read grief in a way that feels so true. And then there is just this absolute pleasure in the language, the atmosphere, the constant move forward through the Southern California landscape and through history. Joan Didion meets Bhanu Kapil meets the films of Kelly Reichardt. It’s like a long, hot day that turns into a harrowing night, and yet at the end, somehow, there is a sense of peace. – Amina Cain, author of Creature and Indelicacy
Tracing and butting up: blood lines, boundary lines, familial lineages, the lines on maps. Calkins reveals the unresolved, the lost, the inaccessible, and the lingering of the fugitive assemblage which is grief and journey and rupture and self. Oh, dear reader, how do I even attempt to describe the breathlessness and devastation felt while navigating this heartbreaking and tender text? Fugitive Assemblage is piercing and marvelous. Autumn approaches and I sit at my desk alone, weeping.– Janice Lee, author of The Sky Isn’t Blue, Executive Editor of Entropy, Co-Founder of The Accomplices
Jennifer Calkins is a scientist /poet / teacher /parent and environmental lawyer. She is also blessed with the wisdom and clarity that depression instills. She paints bleak and beautiful landscapes in our brains with all of the grace and horror of Cormac McCarthy. Fugitive Assemblage is a road story, a darkly funny odyssey in a Datsun careening thru a desert apocalyptic California haunted by ancestral demons. This is Jennifer’s best work to date. Get in the Datsun. – Thor Harris, of The Swans and author of the graphic novel Ocean of Despair
Jennifer Calkins is a writer, attorney and evolutionary biologist. Her academic credentials include a Ph.D. in biological science, an M.F.A. in creative writing and a J.D. in law. Recent creative works are published in The Fanzine, Entropy, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Quarterly West. Between 2010 and 2015 she produced The Quail Diaries, an interdisciplinary project melding science and lyric essay. Her peer reviewed humanities and scientific works are published in Configurations, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Animal Behaviour, and elsewhere. Her natural history writing has appeared online at the The New York Times, National Geographic, and Voices for Biodiversity. She is the author of the chapbook Devil Card (Beard of Bees Press) and the book A Story of Witchery (Les Figues Press). She lives in Seattle with creatures including teenagers.
Bibliography of works cited in the crafting of Fugitive Assemblage.
Manuel Abreu, Incalculable Loss, New Inquiry. Aug 19, 2014.
David Samuel Acuff, Perceptions of the Mountain Lion, 1825-1986, with Emphasis on Felis Concolor Californica, Masters Thesis UC Davis, 1988.
Delano Alonzo, Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings: Being Scenes and Adventures of an Overland Journey to California; with Particular Incidents of the Route, Mistakes and Sufferings of the Emigrants, the Indian Tribes, the Present and the Future of the Great West. Milner, Orton & Muligan. 1854.
Ingeborg Bachmann, Darkness Spoken: the Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann. Zephyr Press. 2005. Trans .Peter Filkens.
Roberto Bolaño, The Skating Rink, New Directions. 2011 trans Chris Andrews.
Herbert Bolton, Fray Juan Crespi, Missionary Explorer on the Pacific Coast. 1769-1774. UC Press 1927.
William H. Brewer, Up and Down California in 1860-1864. University of California Press. 2003.
Juliet Brier, Out West: A Magazine of the Old Pacific and the New, Volume 18, Land of Sunshine Publishing Company, 1903.
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. NYRB Classics. 2001. Including quotes by Jason Pratensis and Plutarch.
Emil Cioran, The New Gods. University of Chicago Press. 1974. Trans. Richard Howard.
Susannah Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Tor Books. 2006.
Miguel Constansó, The Narrative of the Portolá Expedition of 1769-1770. UC Press. 1910. Trans Manuel Carpio. Including quotes by Gaspar Portolá.
Joan Didion, Where I Was From. Vintage. 2004. Including quotes by Joan Irvine Smith.
Joan Didion, The White Album. FSG. 2009.
Zoeth S. Eldredge and E.J. Molera, The March of Portolá and the Discovery of the Bay of San Francisco. Reception Committee of the California Promotion Committee 1909. Including quotes by Gaspar Portolá.
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Regan Good, The Atlantic House. Harry Tankoos Books. 2011.
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Alfred Habegger, My Wars are Laid Away in Books. Modern Library 2002. Including quote from Lavinia Norcross.
Clarence A. Hall Jr, Introduction to the Geology of Southern California and its Native Plants. UC Press. 2007.
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Brenda Hillman, Loose Sugar. Wesleyan Poetry Series. 1997.
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Ethan Paquin, Cloud vs. Cloud. Ahsahta Press, 2013.
Jack Reed, Quoted in Old Maud’s Gusher Puts Orcutt on the Map.
Edward Rothstein, “A Medicine of Oneness, Body, Soul and Stars”. NY Times. March 14, 2014.
Lillian Schlissel, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. Schocken Books. 2004. Including quotes by Esther Hanna, Susan Magoffin, Nancy Hunt and Catherine Haun.
Allen A. Schoenherr, A Natural History of California. University of California Press. 1995.
Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone.
Henry David Thoreau, Collected Essays and Poems. Library of America. 2001.
Jessy Quin Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848: With an Appendix, Including Recent and Authentic Information on the Subject of the Gold Mines of California, and Other Valuable Matter of Interest to the Emigrant, Etc.. Harper. 1849.
Marina Tsvetaeva, Selected Poems, Penguin Classics. 1994. Trans. Elaine Feinstein.
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Joseph E. Ware, The Emigrant’s Guide to California. Princeton University Press 1932.
Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains, University of Nebraska Press. 1931. Including quotes by Mary Ringo, Keturah Belknap.