Twelfth in the order of stories in Brian Evenson’s Fugue State (forthcoming July 1 from Coffee House Press) is ‘The Third Factor,’ which originally appeared in Quarterly West.

And herein, after so much circling, and circling of the circling, of some center, we finally, in concert, enter the void.

‘The Third Factor,’ unlike most any of the stories here, seems to move head-on into that blank space skirted and wormed around at in the earlier avenues of Fugue State’s maze-if still in echo of them thematically, imagistically-and yet still we can not feel.

This story, launched into in the form of a field report, like the previous ‘An Accounting,’ follows a man assigned to follow another man without explanation on a daily routine of recording the subject in cryptic code that he feeds to unresponsive contacts-a routine that bears much of mostly nothing along the way, until the following is violently, inexplicably, adjourned.

The man then, again in circling, takes a new task that leads him into a spiral of unanswerable questions as to the nature of his project, his superiors, his task, and most importantly himself.

In the void, though the language is concrete, its application is mostly circular and functionally vapid (much like the trajectory of Paul Auster’s City of Glass).

At the center of the center of the void, then, we watch, through the eyes of narrator, a film of images played in the movie house where he meets his “contacts”-a film consisting of blurred images that shift in shape and focus, almost becoming, and yet held mostly just out of focus. The narrator becomes transfixed by the film and watches it in loop, finding it similar in texture throughout, but always also different in his recall. “I had the odd sensation of both seeing something for the first time and seeing it again,” he explains, before being driven to leave the film by a final clear but inconclusive image of, simply, a woman (118).

This center image-functionally not important in the outplaying of the story’s jarring and emotionally bereft but also fully displacing chains of events that leave the reader feeling somehow violated by the narrator’s blank and his unreckoning-seems to have everything to say about the loop that this story, and Fugue State in its whole looped winding, seem to want to rub into the skin of those who touch the book.

There is nothing here, not functionally, and yet it is the nothing that is the exquisite lapse, the inexplicable pulse that in its inexplication causes both object and interlocutor to become “increasingly less [his or her]self” 123. This series of loops, made of symbolic logic, minimalist dislocation butted against by turns spare and ornate prose, recurring modes and feelings of displacement, obscurement-in their never becoming, they become.

All that granted, how then, is Evenson so meticulous in his rendering of the blank? What are his tools?

In the context of ‘The Third Factor,’ we are subject to several of Evenson’s most tight-winding devices, the first of which comes from his framing. As mentioned above, the narrator frames what is essentially a recitement of looping, strange behavior that, if played out directly, shown, goes nowhere, has no hold, because it is the blank. In the framing, which ultimately adds a whole outsider layer to the rendering of the blank, a way to pull back and parse via the instrument of the character’s body, we are able, then, to give it credence-to question that character’s sanity, his judgment, the overall texture of his memory and mind.

And yet by leaving those doors open-again, the open doors-the void is dually given terrain and not diminished. The unaccountable search for definitive meaning that plague so many in their understanding of texts, like Evenson’s, that so brusquely nudge the blackest voids, have some room, then, for handholds, for grappling, for doors back into doors-though the heart here is arrayed. The true mortal terror of the moment, of the blurred filmed at any center, is preserved for what it is-a contextless life loop, a hole into a ruin. In the betweening, then, is the writhe.