Most of the time, you don’t really know where you are in All The Things. It could be Berlin where author Sarah M Harrison is based; a park, a supermarket, something called a Simulated Employment Zone. Mostly, though, the novella, first published by London’s Arcadia Missa Publishing in February and now in its second limited run, is located in an apartment where main protagonist Tanya lives in the pantry while her AirBNB holiday-rental guests Beau and Brad smoke bongs in the kitchen. A person called Yoni talks at her from a floor down through the “shit pipe”, while Tanya’s ex Bonky’s pet rodent called Celia crawls over her “sore swollen hormonal tits”. Sometimes she’s comforted by Yoni’s stories. Sometimes they’re boring. Sometimes Tanya chats online with Eggie. Sometimes she sends emails of meaningful childhood anecdotes to someone called Cutlery Jane. Sometimes Tanya’s a lesbian. Sometimes, maybe not.
Time in All the Things is as difficult to place as location. Macro- and micro- states converge to create a kind of tension, where its era feels somehow stuck. Some parts are almost poetry –appearing in proto-form in an earlier publication of untitled poems and “excerpts from a novel” called Channels of Elimination in 2014 –others are monotonous and evocative gestures to meaningful moments of eroticism in repetition: “Hand anus hand anus hand hand finger anus hand anus hand anus anus cock anus cock anus cock anus cock hand cock hand cock cock cock cock…” and so on.
This first book by Australian-born Harrison is one consisting of fragments. A sort of snapshot of an existence that doesn’t ascribe to any notion of linearity or narrative, instead giving over to insight: “Yoni, it is not that I have anything against couples per-se, it is just that, they make me nervous, I don’t feel like I can trust them.” The existence presented here is one that’s funny yet bleak, familiar but different. It’s slightly off. The interwoven life of resigned cynic Tanya and the selfish, solipsistic people around her are presented in pieces of prose, poetry, dialogue, chats, emails, lists ordered alphabetically. Two-dimensional identities are blurred across bounds –personal, gendered, sexual, professional –and given depth despite their meanness: “She’s the sort of person who thinks that you become an artist by making art.”
Harrison’s is a universe that’s astutely constructed within a sensory space that’s both dulled by the marketing language of MacBook Pros and workplace initiatives, and heightened by its attention to the minor details of mundanity on the margins: “Yoni and Tanya dress up in ugly, awkward, slutty outfits, then smoke several weak joints before leaving the house.” Sex and bodily functions are entwined here in an at times macabre but always droll depiction of modern humanity; shrink-wrapped faux meat products, and a clump of horrifying black hair in the shower drain that threatens to strangle them all.
Trapped somewhere between a notion of the present-day and a monstrous close-view of a very near future, All The Things carries its reader through the squeamish particulars of the drudgery of daily life and abjection. The people that live it here are vulgar and sometimes cruel, and the most felt feeling throughout is hurt: “Her pain took up all the space, all the things, everything always her pain.” It meanders with little plot and a deliberately unsatisfying end on a note that surely has meaning but also doesn’t, as testament, perhaps, to its own brilliant soft nihilism that languishes in misery: “Cigarette to scab”. **