Never Again by Doug Nufer

Nufer, Doug. Never Again. New York: Black Square Editions, 2004. Also available online at ubu.com.

I think it’s safe to say that there is no novel like this one. This is a constrained novel on the level of Perec’s La Disparition in its level of ambition and difficulty. Doug Nufer (also author of the novel Negativeland) wrote this 200 page novel without repeating a single word. That means he only uses “I” once, “he” once, “she” once, “the” once, “a” once. The people I’ve mentioned this book to over the past week found it hard to believe this level of constraint was possible. Nufer does use neologisms, unusual contractions, and hyphenated constructions, but this does not take away from the almost genius use of diction at display here. A wary reader may wonder if, in complying with this constraint, Nufer has created a novel that is readable and, what’s more, enjoyable. I have to say that while it is an extremely difficult read (parsing the sentences requires no small amount of concentration) it is also quite enjoyable thanks to Nufer’s imagination, use of wordplay, and general writing skill. Before I go any further, let me quote an early paragraph from the novel which caught my eye:

Pointlessly consulting wrist, untimed jetsam intuitively schedules yet-to-be meetings. Shammed appointments’ pretext deactivates pedestrian alarmists, regarding loiterer’s stumblebum streetcorner idling. (13)

As you can see, while the sentences require a bit of work to put the elements in order (the profusion of verbs as adjectives/nouns and nouns as verbs, etc. while widening Nufer’s vocabulary makes parsing more difficult), there is sense to be found in them and that sense is even quite realistic in this case (I’ve actually done that: looking at my watch to appear as if I’m waiting for someone so I don’t seem like I am loitering).

Getting past the constraint for a moment, what is this novel about? The protagonist (“I” in the first sentence and thus our narrator) who takes on a plethora of names (as they cannot be repeated except in variation (“George” “George’s” “G.”)) starts out as George Raymond, a horserace gambler who goes looking for a job when the track closes. What follows is the ever-shifting adventure of George as he gets a job as a temp, is fired, gets evicted from his apartment, is kidnapped, held captive by a crazy commune, becomes a vending machine thief, travels to Mexico, gets lost in the jungle, ends up at a new track, etc.

The constantly new vocabulary of the constraint almost requires that the story be ever changing, ever renewed in location and action. This created for me frequent senses of vertigo. Obscurely syntaxed sentences make for difficult transition scenes if one is not paying the utmost attention. A dream-like sense comes into being due to this sense in tandem with the fantastical events of the story. I am reminded a bit of some of the Surrealist novels from the early period (Desnos’ Deuil pour Deuil for instance) except Nufer’s fantastic is created thanks to his language constraint not to automatic writing’s unconscious. Certainly Never Again is also more coherent as a continuing story than such Surrealist works, but it does provide one more similarity by divergent paths between Surrealism and Oulipian-style works.

In sticking to his extremely difficuly constraint, Nufer makes abundant use of wordplay. The out-of-context passages below offer a few examples (not necessarily the best, just ones that happened to all fall within the same three paragraph range):

“…Interior terrorizations thereforeign magnify… Schlock heirlooms’ pawnshop hawkers buy-and-large recant noncommercial conversant English… poleconomically plotting: covert battlefield tactics’re germane, businesswise; counterrevolutionarily, armaments shipments’re rational.” (108-09)

The language also maintains a high sense of the aural, particularly with alliteration:

“Cockatoo cock-a-doodle-doos prematinally serenade sleepers’ erupted slumber. Squawking critters codafy orchestrally resonant monotonic reverberations radiating overtured explosive boom.” (114)

But it’s probably best to read some for yourself. The whole text is available in pdf form here, and you can read a small excerpt here, which covers the book previous to the first passage I quoted above.

I was a bit skeptical of this book, and left it on my shelf for a few months, but when I finally read Nufer”s Negativeland I realized what a skilled and imaginative writer he was. Never Again solidifies that opinion for me. I’ve already ordered On the Roast, his other novel that came out last year.

If you like a novel that is innovative, adventurous, skillfully written, and just a little difficult find yourself a copy of this book. It is easily one of the masterpieces of constrained novels.