Thursday, November 11, 2021

Eight-Lane Runaways by Henry McCausland

I am 99% sure Eight-Lane Runaways was not planned as a formal allegory, that creator Henry McCausland had a more organic method of creating the story and pages here. But I'm also pretty sure some inventive reader could construct a reasonably sturdy allegorical reading of it, with only a little bending and twisting to make everything fit.

This is the kind of story that looks to be something simple on the surface: eight characters run a race. But it's much deeper than that - is the race life, or the search for meaning in life, or something like that? And are these individuals, or types, or ways of looking at the world, or something else?

Again: 99% sure McCausland did not have a formal schema in mind. I don't think there's a correct answer to those questions. But thinking about Eight-Lane Runaways through a wider lens than "who is this person and what is this person doing here?" is necessary to really get into what it's doing and saying.

We begin wordlessly: a racecourse running through a landscape, seen from high in the air. Then we see two runners, joined by a third, and a fourth, until there are eight. The first words, spoken at a starting or finish line by some kind of official: "Hello. Take this stick...and bring it back here."

The eight run. This is the story: how they bring the stick back, and what happens to all of them along the way. As they joined one by one, they will peel off one by one, as they find something else they need or want to be doing. They don't quite peel off in the same order they joined, or the reverse order. But we do start with two, and end with the same two. Not quite allegory.

It took a while for me to realize, and this may be a spoiler: they are not running against each other. They are running together. I think this is important.

(I think a lot of things about Eight-Lane Runaways. It's a great book to read if you like to think about the books you read.)

The eight are all individuals. We learn their names before the first story page: Freddo and Bruce, Khoklakola and Natalie Whey, Bobby Blackberries and Blaise Ayonnaise, Oplo and Mykol Jordon. Do we take those names seriously? I did, in the end: they're odd and quirky and artificial, but this whole book is inherently odd and quirky and artificial. That's the point.

None of them are Everyman. But each is in the middle of life. They mostly look young, but that could be McCausland's art style. They all have choices as the story goes on: I think McCausland means to show that they all make good choices, for themselves. I think he succeeds.

McCausland's art is detailed but easily skimmable. A reader will need to deliberately slow down and pay attention: yet another irony in a book about running.

I know I didn't get everything Eight-Lane Runaways had to offer in just one reading: it's a deceptively deep book. I look forward to coming back to it, around another bend in my own race, and to finding out what else McCausland has done, or will do next.

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