"Are we having fun?”
That line appears several times throughout Michael J. Seidlinger’s The Fun We’ve Had, easily his most challenging and dreamlike novel to date. It is a question shared by the two characters that inhabit the novel’s unearthly narrative. The way in which the question is asked varies throughout the book. It is asked with bitter sarcasm by one of the only two characters, as they drift aimlessly in what is at least theoretically an endless ocean. It is also sometimes asked with intense fear and longing. There are other times it is asked with a fire committed to using up the last burst of oxygen in the known universe. In order to shatter or at least frighten the shape of the faces that may or may not be out there in the darkness. It is also sometimes posed with quiet rhetoric, as things like love and hope become dimmer and dimmer.
A certain type of repetition exists all the way through The Fun We’ve Had. The two characters, an older man and a much younger girl repeat lines, come back to ideas continually, and live a lifetime in a moment, wondering along the way if they hadn’t just gone through that lifetime already. The novel switches back and forth between them as “turns.” Her turns frequently take personal responsibility to a level of self destruction that could put nuclear annihilation to shame. His turns frequently obsess over what it means to be a hero, a protector. Both characters grip defiance with fingers connected to melting hands. Both deconstruct love (“I love you” is another line that shows up often, spoken with varying tones and meanings) to the point of forgetting what they were talking about in the first place.
The ocean is there the entire time. Although it creates threats, changes conditions like the water’s temperature on a dime, and keeps them locked firmly in place, the ocean isn’t really the enemy. The end has come for both characters. We do not read a single sentence of The Fun We’ve Had with any sense of optimism. All Seidlinger gives us is the small possibility that some kind of peace will be achieved before it’s too late. Their greatest threat is clearly themselves. They’re not just fighting their surroundings. They also have to contend with personal histories, as well as how their minds perceive each other, the ocean, the sky, and even the rain. The ocean can certainly be seen as a character unto itself, but there’s no question that the two lost souls in The Fun We’ve Had are giving some measure of power to that third, god-like character. How much power that is can be left up to the reader’s imagination. The same can be said for what that power even means. The Fun We’ve Hadjuxtaposes a very bluntly-told story with scenes that are wide open to interpretation. There are some universals for anyone who reads the book. It will make you uncomfortable, lead you to a sense of despair by virtue of what his characters go through, and leave you to wonder about death in ways that can severely fuck with your sleep.
Death is something else that understandably comes up a lot here. The inevitability of death on every possible level has been on his mind before, but never in something as cerebral and allegoric asThe Fun We’ve Had. Did they actually have fun? Did they love each other? Did they love anybody? Did death finally make them aware of what they were truly losing, at a point where it was too late to do anything about it? In what is a truly dramatic creative departure for Seidlinger, none of these questions are given clear, easy-to-digest answers. Even as the narrative falls into the hands of whoever is looking down on the two protagonists, nothing is very simple. You may not even trust the notion that there really are two people. At times, I certainly didn’t.
Don’t take anything for granted, and don’t expect what you believe about death to fill in the blanks. The only thing you can be sure of is the proven range of Seidlinger’s imagination restating itself here, and of his ability to take something like slipping the murky depths of eternity (the book is appropriately broken down into the stages of grief), and turn it into an apocalyptic, poetic, and existential fairytale.