Friday, June 1, 2012

The Photo Album by K.B. Dixon

It's become almost a yearly tradition for me to read and review one of author K.B. Dixon's short novels.  Since he sought me out a few years ago with an offer of his insightful, A Painter's Life, it's been a no-brainer to say yes to any review copies he's willing to send my way. 

K.B. Dixon's books are interesting experiments with storytelling in unique formats.  In A Painter's Life, he told the story of a painter via excerpts from his biography, reviews of his work, and excerpts from his journal.  The Ingram Interview probed the depths of the title character entirely in interview format.  It should be no surprise then that The Photo Album is, well, a photo album, except without the photos.  Okay, it sounds a little offbeat, and it is, but there's something clever to leaving the photos to the imagination and alluding to them through the stories and musings they inspire.

A person, a place, a thing --- for me a picture is always a picture of time, an instant rescued from oblivion.

Michael Quick, Dixon's fictional photographer, is a committed amateur photographer, not so prolific as to be famous, but invested enough in the art to wax philosophical about it.  His repertoire includes plenty of shots of his neighbors, the city of Portland, and the occasional inanimate object.  The format gives Quick the opportunity to navel-gaze over the art and aesthetics of photography as he collects some of his favorite shots.  Even better, it allows for a giving into the urge to tell stories that are, at best, tangentially related to the photo at hand that photographs often seems to inspire as they draw us into the bigger stories of our past and present.  By and large, what emerges is an engaging novella that mixes entertaining observations of the ordinary and amateur philosophizing about an oft underappreciated art.  Unfortunately, on some pages Dixon seems to be carried off on a tide of overwhelmingly advanced vocabularly.  Perhaps there's a method to this, but I'll admit that these pages found me with my eyes glazing over just a bit given the lack of context to give meaning to a bunch of lesser used words strung together in an impenetrable paragraph.  I tend to think I have a fairly decent vocabulary, but some of these pages had me second guessing myself. 

That said, when Dixon is on the mark, you'll be smiling to yourself or nodding appreciatively at the astuteness of his observations.  Quick's anecdotes about the neighbors he photographs can be a window on human nature.  His musings about life's oddities, like crossword puzzles drawing words out of you that you hardly realize you know, are things that you might well never think of on your own, but will strike you with their obvious truth.  Even his thoughts on photography and how it can rescue a moment, even a life from oblivion strike a chord. 

This is a picture of Terry Greenfield... He is working a crossword puzzle.  I have never understood the attraction of this sort of pointless intellection.  It was snapped just before Terry asked me if I knew a nine-letter word that meant "disturbance."  I offered "kerfuffle," a word I didn't even know I knew.  I don't know where I picked it up.  I have never used it in a sentence.  I can't imagine that I ever would.

A Painter's Life still hasn't been unseated as my favorite of Dixon's work thus far, but The Photo Album is another clever and entertaining read that uses an unusual storytelling device to draw out a character and the human condition itself.


  1. Oh, wow -- I love Dixon's unique storytelling technique -- sounds amazing!! I'm going to look for A Painter's Life -- I love books like this!

  2. This sounds interesting even with the "advanced vocabulary."

  3. I've never heard of this author before, but I do love unusual approaches to storytelling. Here's a crazy excellent word that I learned in Latin class -- ekphrasis! Glorious word! It means when you describe a work of art in words. And I am very, very fond of books that employ ekphrasis, so I must give Dixon a try.