In the face of a slow but impending apocalypse, what binds 3 seemingly divergent lives (a writer, a photographer, an old man), isn’t the commonality of a perceived future death, but the layered and complex fabric of how loss, abuse, trauma, and death have shaped their pasts, and how these pasts continue to haunt their present moments, a moment in which time seems to be running out. The writer, traumatized by the violent death of her mother when she was a child, lives alone with her dog and struggles to finish her book. The photographer, stunted by the death of his grandmother and caretaker, struggles to take a single picture and enters into a complicated relationship with the writer. The old man, facing his past in small doses, spends his time watching television and reorganizing the objects in his apartment to stay distracted from the deterioration around him.
A depiction of the cycles of abuse and trauma in a prolonged end-time, Imagine a Death examines the ways in which our pasts envelop us, the ways in which we justify horrible things in the name of survival, all of the horrible and beautiful things we are capable of when we are hurt and broken, and the animal (and plant) companions that ground us.
If I could swim inside the language of Janice Lee’s Imagine a Death I’d never come out. Just like the ocean, which is just like language and the subconscious, the passages open up from death outward into life and desire, eros and thanatos creating wave after wave of unending being and unbeing, strange undulations of beauty. When pain and loss travel they inhabit us over many different times and places, locate on a single body and then release like energy into a thousand starshot particles. To enter the realm of Imagine a Death is to enter both particle and wave, species and botany, a heart beating toward its own end which is of course all beginnings.
– Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Verge
When you read Janice, remember to breathe. But even if you manage to exhale, don’t be too shocked to watch your breath crawl out of your mouth, unfurling like an antennaed pill-millipede successfully coaxed out of its privacy. Imagine A Death digs its fingernails beneath the craggy concrete slab of the ordinary and unveils a microcosmos of alien critters, teeming with perverse life of all kind…feelings and observations so subtle you wonder how they fell into Janice’s trap. Read this story of trauma and connection and feeling and dreams and world endings. Read especially now during a pandemic apocalypse. Let Janice lure you into a breathless consideration: that the apocalypse isn’t so much about cataclysmic endings as it is about the spritely appearing of a hue of a colour not yet named, of a connection newly made, of a howl sublimated into a sky that holds all things.
– Bayo Akomolafe, author of These Wilds Beyond Our Fences
Like a funereal mask studded with gemstones on its inside, Imagine a Death embodies a vast, preternatural and intensely intimate terrain, slipping headfirst into the impossible expanses between suffering and mourning, seeking and failing, spiral and flame. For Janice Lee is not the sort to turn her back where others duck and cover; sentence by sentence, her rhapsodic fearlessness and tender logic not only reflects and withstands, it listens back; it redefines as it rewires what’s gone missing; it refuses to give in to its regrets. The result is the greatest work to-date of one of America’s most elemental voices and death-defiers, a kind of lamp that breaks the dark.
– Blake Butler, author of Alice Knott
In the early hours of Janice Lee’s Imagine a Death, a story is told about a crack in a wall out of which emanates an eerie light, then strange whirling sounds like eternity being shredded apart. What happens next is terrifying and profound, and seems to be not only an analogue for Lee’s book, but a description of how she receives the horror vacui of the world and transforms it into a form of reparative spell-binding. Imagine a Death confirms Lee as the descendant of Béla Tarr, of moss that breathes, then hibernates, then breathes, of spiders in the corners of houses, of ancestral museums that only open past midnight, and of the earliest forms of shamanic storytelling.
– Brandon Shimoda, author of The Grave on the Wall
A delicate constellation of lives both human and not that keep threatening to come together to form meaning but then, with each new section, changes shape, continuing to open up. Imagine a Death is an illuminating exploration of radical intersubjectivity, the understanding that even though everyone and everything potentially can touch everything else, nothing accumulates with narrative neatness. Through brilliantly complex sentences, Lee offers a disjunctive synthesis on the multifold possibilities and fears of being.
– Brian Evenson, author of Song for the Unraveling of the World
Imagine a Death is a roving vision quest and a blueprint for a liberational politics of being in the world. Manifold transformation occurs as shifts in consciousness disrupt patterns of traumatic encounter. Unfolding intimacies among diverse relations cause the world to flex exponentially dissolving barriers of interdependence. Intricately sensitive and lucidly aware of the urgency of attending to and engendering the flourishing of livable worlds in uncertain times, Janice Lee demonstrates how a togetherness in sentience is extended, intensified and strengthened. Imagine a Death is ecstatic, gorgeous and wise; a revelatory book holding the persistent glow of terrestrial reality that involves all floral, faunal and mineral presence.
– Brenda Iijima, author of Bionic Communality
It swarms, it engulfs, it burns with fabulous agglutination, it is a doorway to the other planes. The language rivets. Not unlike Egyptian psychology its protracted density can cause nutation in the cellular structure itself. The impact of evolutionary activism.
– Will Alexander, author of Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat and The Sri Lankan Loxodrome
In Janice Lee’s newest work, Imagine a Death, her methodical, dedicated attention illuminates the otherwise impenetrable depths of grief. She invites us to bear witness to The Writer, The Photographer, and The Old Man—each having survived the death of a beloved—as they engage in pathetic but ultimately deeply resonant efforts to shape their lives. We can recognize a bit of our collective (and increasingly daily) realities in the miasma of their city, plagued by ongoing, impending ecological disasters and regular, arbitrary violences. Through a panoply of animal interpellators, Lee invokes a world that is audaciously savage and catastrophically familiar, and offers an astonishing take on the saga—sung in a Beckettian key. To truly imagine a death requires attending to how we persist after.
– Juliette Lee, author of Aerial Concave Without Cloud