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by Renee Gladman
Reviewed by Michael Matthew

Most of us know the disorientation of travel to a country with a different language and customs. The simplest daily activities can become so difficult—where will we eat? How do we look for the bathroom? Reading Renee Gladman's intriguing novella Event Factory redoubles that feeling, in the story of a traveler whose experiences and behavior have an unusual orientation to everyday logic.

Gladman's city, Ravicka, seems to be located somewhere in Europe, judging by the shape of the names and words we read—but again, perhaps it is not. It is lit most days by a yellow daylight. Our unnamed first-person traveler, a linguist, speaks the local "Ravic" tongue before arrival, but must learn a great deal more of the extensive gestural component of communication there. She moves into a hotel and explores the city, having much difficulty with navigation. Ravicka experiences some trouble or breakdown, with which the narrator becomes involved.

Gladman tells her story in perfectly straightforward prose, but the events described follow a dream logic, where ordinary actions lead to extraordinary outcomes. Neither the Ravickians nor the narrator respond as we'd expect in everyday existence.

Gladman's character often ends up in odd grapples with those she meets. Early in the novel, she goes into an apparent office building, simply looking for people, who are scarce on the streets. She tries an intercom, is buzzed into an elevator, and goes upstairs for a first, chance meeting:

Once we met, all ambivalence dissipated. I opened the door onto a wall of books with her standing proudly before them. Her arms were folded across her chest and the smile she gave was scandalous. I walked until we were face-to-face with about a foot between us. She unfolded her arms and embraced me. Moving salaciously. We danced without comment […] 'Hello,' I thought it was a good time to say.

The "hello" clearly comes after at least a minute or so of two strangers dancing. These events are not surreal—nothing impossible occurs—but they certainly are at odds with our normal understanding of how people interact.

This obscurity is not for every reader, but I found it easy to care about the narrator's journey, discoveries, and troubles. Much of what happens is quite funny in an understated way. At one point, someone complains that the linguist has left out a key detail in a story she is telling. She replies "…that it was possible to tell a story without explicit details, that this was even the better approach. How else to get to what was hidden?" If you enjoy pursuing the hidden after this fashion, this fascinating book is for you.