The Three Sunrises by Edward Mullany
Publishing Genius Press, 2015; 380 pp
Reviewed by Megan Turner
There is a darkness that exists within the light; that is not an actual darkness, but is the absence of light and darkness both. In this darkness a face appeared to me. Not the face of anyone I knew, or had known, but the face of someone I’d never seen before, and yet someone who I felt as if I knew, or had known.
Edward Mullany’s The Three Sunrises is absurdist in nature. In fact, the book, which consists of the three parts—“Legion,” “The Book of Numbers,” and “The Three Sunrises”—is oftentimes apocalyptic, each novella following a seemingly incessant, maddening loop, taking the reader on a journey that often ends in a quite a similar place as where it started. Mullany’s novellas, which read as prose poems, point to the banality of life. The novellas are funny—surprisingly so—as they are often relentless in the same breath.
“I got my straight razor and white coffee mug, placed the coffee mug on the table, rolled the cuff of my shirt up past the elbow, then drew the blade of the razor along the most prominent vein on the soft underside of my forearm,” starts the first poem in the first novella, “Legion.” Of course, it only becomes more troubling from there as the narrator, described as a devil-like figure, is fired from his job, deals with the death of his mother, and wanders the city’s often gritty streets.
Writes Mullany: “There were nights I couldn’t sleep, nights when I saw—while I lay on my back on my mattress, looking up at the ceiling in the dark—strange faces with laughing, soundless mouths.”
Despite this anguish, the poems are often jocular, almost taunting the reader by calling attention to the oddness, the strange juxtaposition of its language. The events in each novella similarly vie for the reader’s attention. The first novella, as well as the third, point to the human experience, exposing the everyday as nearly hilarious, if one is paying attention.
Once Mullany moves on to “The Book of Numbers,” the book takes an especially dark turn, the reader entering the most troubling, most clearly apocalyptic phase of the collection. The second novella includes an epigraph from Waiting for Godot, and rightly so, as there is, in this novella, a great sense of pointlessness, repetition as the protagonist wanders the desert. Along the way, the protagonist is given false clues and hints as to the meaning of his journey, but he never fully realizes his purpose.
Mullany often articulates the day-to-day in a drawn out, sentence-by-sentence style. In this manner, both the seemingly insignificant and significant are lumped together—the reader attempting to make sense of each instant of time. In “The Book of Numbers,” this purposelessness becomes even more apparent as two men, much like Estragon and Vladimir, go on an endless journey. The first man is ultimately separated from his companion. He must, therefore, continue alone, which he does until he becomes a skeleton and is carried off by a third man who must continue the journey in the first’s man stead.
Many of the passages in this second novella include seemingly meaningful, almost prophetic pronouncements such as this:
“Enter the elevator, lug your hair in with you, allow the doors to close, then close your eyes. When you open them, your hair will have turned into writhing snakes. When you touch the snakes with your hands, the snakes will sing, and the sound of their song will cause you to fall asleep. In your sleep you will begin to dream. And your dream will be a repetition of this life that you have lived.”
Finally, Mullany’s third novella, “The Three Sunrises,” returns the reader to a more familiar setting. In this last piece, the narrator stalks a man who looks exactly like him. This seems innocent, playful enough, until the narrator realizes the man he is following has a girlfriend who looks much like his own girlfriend, Juanita. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the narrator’s reality has been drastically altered. In fact, the narrator seems to have been separated not only from his girlfriend but also from the rest of civilization. He is living in his own dimension, it seems, and cannot reach anyone from his previous life. Here, the novella becomes apocalyptic again, the protagonist finding himself alone in a city, which becomes more and more unfamiliar to him.
It seems Mullany has a knack for turning the ordinary into the unfamiliar. His work is highly modern, presenting a layered, nuanced world. Just as in Beckett’s work, the reader attempts to make sense of the jumble of words and occurrences. Mullany’s work is reflective. It asks questions that most never consider. These are basic yet essential questions about meaning—and if any such meaning exists. We see our lives mirrored in Mullany’s novellas. What we see is the grotesque, the profane.