cover image Vanishing Monuments

Vanishing Monuments

John Elizabeth Stintzi. Arsenal Pulp, $17.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-55152-801-4

In Stintzi’s ambitious debut novel (after the poetry collection Junebat) a nonbinary photographer based in Minneapolis struggles to break through the barriers of their past. The photographer, Alani Baum, navigates their “memory palace” after their mother’s dementia takes a turn for the worse and they return to their childhood home in Winnipeg for the first time in 30 years. The components of the palace guide the narrative through collaged passages that examine the space’s fixed points. Chapters titled “The Living Room” and “The Stairs” open on scenes narrated in the second person, bringing the reader into rooms where walls are “covered in memories.” Stintzi ties Alani’s troubled history with their mother to readings of Ovid, descriptions of photographs, and past travels from the narrator’s life that reach as far as Hamburg, where Alani worked as a model for photographer Erwin Egger. Certain moments stand out vividly—a description of Alani navigating their nonbinary identity through the metaphor of a labyrinth and a Minotaur, the detailed construction of Erwin’s photographic compositions—but they don’t all cohere in the long run. Still, Stintzi’s skill shines through in well-crafted sentences and narratives. Despite its weaknesses, Stintzi’s first foray into the novel form displays a visionary approach with the refreshing touch of a poet. (May)