A mystery in two voices, Dirtmouth recounts the grisly murder of a young woman on Blackman's Heath, an ancient execution site in the Irish bogs. A pair of archaeologists, the obese and decadent Kraft Dundeed and his furious protégé Roscoe Taste, each contest the other's self-justifying account of the crime while professing passionate love for the victim. Two silences frame their quarrel: Cinna McDermond, the brutalized subject of her lovers' confessions, and a nameless Investigator, whose invisible presence embodies the reader's. Against this backdrop of subterranean savagery, the competing monologues struggle to unearth a violence neither can fully remember or forget.
Dirtmouth is the third in a triad of novels by Alan Singer which investigate the entanglements of memory, self, and duplicitous will. As in Singer's Memory Wax and the tour de force The Charnel Imp, Dirtmouth's luxuriant prose enacts its narrators' labyrinthine rationalizations, entangling action in grotesque imagery and dark insinuation, much as Blackman's Heath engulfs its Bronze Age victims. Singer's writing recalls the stylistic virtuosity of John Hawkes and Djuna Barnes and the obsessive ruminations of Beckett's and Poe's narrators. Drawing readers into an interrogation room as vast and constricted as the mind, Dirtmouth explores the archaeology of passion, exhuming crimes that mirror our own.
"Like William Goyen's The House of Breath or Beckett's Play, Singer's Dirtmouth's voices flutter purgatorially somewhere between life and death. But while Goyen offers the ghostly and weightless consolation of both memory and air, Singer's voices here are weighty as earth and as the crimes they have committed, the sentences as substantial and as carefully articulated as preserved bodies. Dirtmouth is a compelling and perfectly rendered meditation on the dark struggle between memory and forgetting." —Brian Evenson
"Here is an archaeology of the dismembered and reawakened body, a tale, a tongue, that unearths love and thought and makes you breathe mortality itself." —Joseph McElroy
I am here to listen to you listen to each other. The questions will be my own, the better to prise the difference between your stories.
I see you are fat. You are thin. You are old. You are young. You are bald. You are hirsute. But these are only my eyes talking, and using such simple words. The crime before us is something more complex. It wants another vision, because what we hunt for here is what the watering eye cannot make out unless it makes itself invisible.
And what if I didn't ask the questions? What if I were patient? What if we sat together and my lips were sealed? Only the ticking of the time-piece, knocking against the steady breath of our bodies at rest. Then would you hear the ghostly voices of my questions in spontaneous utterances you yourselves might mount against the uncomfortable silence? Fidgeting in your uncomfortable chairs, would you become me, by presuming upon my silence? Would you impersonate my questions? It could be that you would even forget yourselves in telling me what it is you think I want to hear. One of you might even confess. Shall we perform the experiment? Shall we?
Very well. Then I'll ask the questions.