Book Review: Lake of Urine, by Guillermo Stitch

Guillermo Stitch’s Lake of Urine consists of four parts. Part I, “Seiler,” describes the narrator’s (Seiler’s) obsessive persecution of homely Ms Urine, in a way that calls to mind Harry Mathews’ Tlooth and its narrator’s murderous fixation upon Evelyn Roak. It’s a twenty-page giggle.

Part II, “Noranbole,” is named for Urine’s half sister, who has made her way to the big city and now sits at the helm of the Terra Forma corporation. She seems to be the only one capable of managing anything, because she can manage anybody; and she can manage anybody because each is a nobody, a mere collection of idiosyncrasies that she is adept at manipulating. This section contains the choicest collection of corporate blatherspeak that one is likely to find. Here is a sample:

‘We need to talk about a radical rethink, Ms Wakeling,’ said Mr Perigo. ‘A sidestep, or perhaps a ninety degree. I don’t think we should exclude the possibility of a complete about-to, frankly.’

‘This could deepen the crisis exponentially,’ said Mr Amerideath, ‘sending us spiraling downwards toward some sort of upheaval.’

‘Or worse,’ said Mr Drinkwater. ‘Upwards.’

‘What about any implications for the other crisis?’ asked Mr Freeze.

‘Well,’ said Mr Deer Spirit, leaning forward so everyone could see him, ‘on the bright side, it might actually resolve that one.’

‘Ooh,’ said Vacuity, ‘that would be good, wouldn’t it?’

‘Depending on how things go, of course,’ said Mr Elderkin.

‘Of course,’ said Mr Deer Spirit.

‘And we definitely can’t salvage this?’ asked Noranbole.

‘How?’ asked Mr Star Blanket. ‘I’ve been imagineering all morning. Nothing. And I’m the head of Creative.’ (p. 49)

Part III, “Emma Wakeling,” turns to Urine and Noranbole’s mother. It is ingeniously written, alternating between two sets of chapters that move in contrary chronological order, and it provides the backstory of all the other parts. Despite the cover blurbs testifying to Urine’s hilarity, these chapters are dead serious, exploring themes of domestic abuse and neglectful parenting.

This part is also replete with author Stitch’s unique brand of performative dialogue, which, perhaps, counts as comic relief.

The pastor [Emma’s father], who liked to think of himself as an open-minded man had, as part of his ongoing efforts with the county’s wayward women, turned to psychology. He had been leafing through a copy of Dr Hans Sittlichkeit’s Mother Abandonment: causes, symptoms, and role in the development of the contemporary strumpet and one or two of the eminent scholar’s theories had struck a little close to home. As Phinoola Quigg was fussing about him one afternoon in his study, wiping pristine surfaces and rearranging decorative items, he put his quill down.

‘I would like your advice, Phinoola Quigg.’

‘Would you indeed?’ asked the housekeeper and stopped her dusting.

‘Yes. I have been reading this book – ’

‘Have you indeed?’

‘Yes. And it says here – ’

‘Does it indeed?’

‘Does it…? But I haven’t… The book is about girls, Phinoola Quigg, and how we might, with the use of cutting-edge scientifical interventions, go about the prevention of their loosening.’

‘Well, isn’t that nice?’

‘Yes, let me just… The point is, Phinoola Quigg, that I am of the opinion that some of the theories presented by Dr Sittlichkeit – ’

‘Are you now?’

‘…may pertain, indeed may pertain very closely, to our own situation, and – ’

Our situation?’ The housekeeper clasped her hands.

‘The situation in this house, yes. The long and short of it is that according to modern science, it would seem that young Emma would almost certainly be the better for it if she had rather more to do with her mother than is currently the case. Rigorous studies have shown as much.’

‘Have they indeed? It all sounds very clever, doesn’t it?’

‘At the very least, I think a formal introduction is called for, don’t you? That is the matter upon which I would like to consult you. The fact is, I don’t know how to go about it. I haven’t seen the woman since last October, although there is not the slightest doubt in my mind,’ and here the pastor’s voice became shrill as his eyes darted around the room, ‘that she is listening.’

‘Right, and I suppose that’ll be my job, will it?’ (pp. 116-117)

Toddler Emma’s first word had been harlot, incidentally. (p. 98)

In Part IV, it all comes together, kind of.

Lake of Urine is well crafted, meaningful, and subtler than its title suggests, drawing the reader forward and inward by making him supply what is inexplicit in its pages, showing (rather appallingly) more than telling. It is not so much a guilty as a grim pleasure.

Author: Harry Miller

I have traveled and lived in Taiwan, China, and Japan and am now a professor of Asian history and author of Southern Rain, a novel of seventeenth-century China.

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