Review: And Every Day Was Overcast by Paul Kwiatkowski
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
by Kalliopi Mathios
And Every Day Was Overcast is a uniquely Floridian story, with muted palm tree landscapes establishing the mood of this illustrated novel. The photographic narratives seem to come from under the narrator’s bed, a dusted-off photo album holding memories from a time when we still developed film, dropping off our tiny plastic canisters into the hands of a complete stranger: encapsulated in a time when our phones were not also cameras, alarm clocks, and notebooks.
The narrator shares a grungy luster of frustrated, bored teenagers, seemingly snapping photos while laughing among friends, tripping forward after too many drinks or too many drugs–or both. Yet while Kwiatkowski shares an underexposed Florida, he equally enacts the narratives of teens across America, straddling the cusp of disenchanted suburbia and devastating rural poverty.
Transmissions–short commentaries that act almost like text messages sent to the reader– utilize equally visual and textual means to convey information. This break from text-based prose invites the reader to experience intimate moments between characters as the characters themselves might visually experience it. When our narrator sends his spy into the girls’ locker room, we too study these photographs, feeling as though we are a part of his secret; we become accomplices in teenage deviancy.
Kwiatkowski’s debut work experiments with the modern novel, pushing it closer to a more visually based art form. And Every Day Was Overcast reminded me of Jessica Anthony’s young adult novel, Chopsticks. With scribbled notes and text messages, it resembles a print documentary, examining the life of a missing piano prodigy and the events leading up to her disappearance. Like Anthony, Kwiatkowski chooses photographs over text, providing the reader with fictional artifacts to better understand the complexities of character and narrative.
Such personalized visual connections deepen our ability to make meaning and give more context to today’s increasingly visual reader. Kwiatkowski’s photographs support a lyrical prose with exceptionally descriptive moments that firmly place the reader “over Seminole Indian burial grounds… a paradise of strip malls, prefab housing, amusement parks, and other areas of diversion.” Recalling memories from his teen years, our narrator describes an acid trip where he lays still on his back and listens to a handheld radio:
…I heard more rolling waves of static occasionally punctuated by pirate radio signals of Latin music, muffled trucker jargon, jerk-off talk, church organs absorbing the pious ramblings of low-budget evangelicals.
And Every Day Was Overcast situates the reader alongside the narrator and his cast of lovers, strangers, and subversive friends: we gawk and cringe, recalling our own youth and the complexities it carried. Kwiatkowski beautifully illustrates, both in visual image and in written word, how he found acceptance with a transient group of misfits, in a dreary palm-tree town.
Every Day Was Overcast by Paul Kwiatkowski
And Every Day Was Overcast was published by Black Balloon. A limited number of signed copies can be purchased from Whisper Editions.