Woven across fragmented poetry, Charles Crittenden’s Inhabitant is at once an adventure, existential questioning, and declaration of hope. Broken into four parts, the poetry collection follows the linear story of an astronaut expelled from Earth, a lonely voyager seeking a new home to sooth the emptiness that comes with eviction from one’s home. Their misadventures take the reader along to the desolate landscape of Mars, through Saturn’s perilous rings, and beyond: to the further reaches of the galaxy that dangle the idea of home just outside our reach.
On a surface level, Crittenden’s experimental poetic structure shows a mastery of wordplay as he bends word form to visually match the story, the words physically descending on the page as they freefall and dropping between sentences when they gaze at the heights of human civilization. The effect is a three-dimensional reading that feels cinematic, the storytelling echoing the visual and sound cues that work so well in speculative films such as Interstellar.
The protagonist’s journey across the far recesses of space is intermeshed with their lamentations of loneliness as they remember the planet they once called home. Their eviction and subsequent feelings of emptiness and longing as they search for a similar safety in unknown worlds calls into question the human need for the familiar and comfortable, as well as the illogical tendency of humans to destroy their homes in the name of financial and material greed. Crittenden’s protagonist contemplates the now seemingly futile human attempts at immorality and how the tall buildings and elaborate structures only echo the transience of human life and memory.
At times, the poignant and in-depth discussion of this existential climate-related anxiety and the thrilling use of form as storytelling seemed to overshadow the storytelling. There were moments of clarity where the plot shone through specific details such as the protagonist’s few souvenirs from home and their wear and tear through time, but overall the storyline could have been polished and given the attention that it deserved. The focus seemed to have been on the book’s experimental form and heavy philosophical themes.
Apart from this, the reading experience was exciting and refreshing: a new type of storytelling that is informed by its structure while also playing into it on a meta level. The protagonist reveals later in the story that these words are actually their journal notes, which further enhances the dynamic, multidimensional storytelling that draws in the reader and keeps them captivated.
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