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Special Deliverance

PDF A little more than a year ago, I moved from a city where I'd lived a third of my life to a city I'd only visited twice, and where I only knew a handful of people. I had no money, no job, no car and no specific purpose. I was low on options and one friend, 3000 miles from me, offered me a couch to sleep on. I took the offer.

Sometime last summer (or fall, or winter; I have no way of remembering in this temperate, seasonless place) said friend took me to a used bookstore in a town nearby the city that, while not being an especially great bookstore, had no small amount of charm. It was the sort of place where you can never find the book you came looking for but you find five other books that seem interesting enough to take home with you, even if you never read them. I vowed to return to the bookstore but, as it is with magic places, never quite remembered to do it.

Over the course of my first year in my new strange city, despite securing a car and a job and some money, my friend and I had a cataclysmic falling out. By that time I'd decided to go back to school for a masters in writing, and was biding my time until classes started in the fall. So this new city that still did not feel like my home became a place I knew I had to stay. I still only knew a handful of people, and the friend I fell out with claimed most of them on our separation. I found a new apartment and began to write in earnest. And I found new love, going so far as to purchase little symbols of the domesticity I thought we would share. A cookbook for us to make meals together. One more bath towel than I needed, kept under the sink.

But I wasn't ready for love, or domesticity. As much as I wanted to share my bare-bones life in my new strange city, something inside me wouldn't let me. I pulled away and have since spent a lot of time alone, writing furiously to fill the space.

But sometimes the quiet gets to be too much, and I explore my city on my own, looking both for new things and for things I thought I'd lost. And I do find myself in the middle of all manner of interesting times and surreal situations — the kind that one can only come upon after being left alone long enough to wander down the alleyways of Modern-Day Weird.

And so today I finally found myself once more in a little used bookstore in a little nearby town, and while they didn't have the book I wanted, I came away with a few other things I'd never heard of but looked interesting enough to take home with me. One of these was an odd-looking paperback called Special Deliverance.

The few reviews that exist for Special Deliverance seem to count it as a fair-to-middling entry in the career of a somewhat respected science fiction writer that I, until today, had never heard of. Apparently he's written many other books, and apparently most of them are better than this one.

The story follows an English professor named Edward Lansing, who teaches at an unnamed but tweedy university. He lives alone, and his social circle consists of one male friend he doesn't much like, one female professor he doesn't know what to do with, and an apartment full of unread books and old records. One evening, instead of going home, he wanders into a basement room at the school and finds himself in another world.

In this new world he happens upon a small group of fellow travelers, all with equal confusion about where they are or what they should do next. They are all from Earth, but different Earths, and must work together to understand their purpose in the strange land where they find themselves. For the majority of the book, the characters work at convincing themselves that this new world has been created with some purpose; they find clues and artifacts that make them believe the randomness of their new existence has been somehow constructed and that, if they think and explore long enough, the truth will reveal itself. But always, always, is the lurking fear that this is a place that has been abandoned by sense and reason, and that there is no meaning to be had save desperation and loneliness.

Most of them, as well as the other inhabitants they meet, never find any answers. Instead they succumb to destruction and death, often seemingly voluntarily — the ambitious leader who throws himself into the unknown, the artist who drowns herself in beauty, the automaton who gives himself to the yawning void. Edward does survive, but not by being a hero — in the end he is told he only pulled through "by making the right choices," despite having no direct hand in the world-puzzle's ultimate solution. And it is never said — but it is strongly implied — that Edward's true saving grace in the face of despair is hope.

It's safe to say that I did not find Special Deliverance a fair-to-middling book. Nor is it perfect — the ending is pat, and specific in its explanation of itself in a way that is as familiar to me as Ray Bradbury's short fiction, or as the big reveal of 1984.

But of its emotional journey, I will say this: in this summer I spend waiting for classes to begin, as I write copiously and embark on spontaneous night adventures looking for trouble in the dark, sometimes I like to imagine myself as a low-key Hunter Thompson, or Spider Jerusalem, or Hank Moody — with no need of social structure or universal meaning, content to busy myself with my own words and splashes of Modern-Day Weird.

But maybe I'm Edward Lansing, too — lost, but sticking to hope and reason, holding onto the possibility that I will someday find a place where I fit in a puzzle-like world.

And maybe someday I will be okay enough to be simply be myself: recovering from a decade in New York by typing on a laptop in San Diego, with a cookbook in the cupboard, and an extra towel under the sink.

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