Level End, by Brian Oliu (A Review by j/j hastain)

Origami Zoo


Equipped with an initial warning page in regard to the dos and don’ts of Brian Oliu’s Level End, we enter this book as we would a rigorous vertigo: an exercise in sense and emotion, an interaction with twitch. Luckily, we are immediately schooled in regard to how to approach this read: “Do not see ghosts. Do not touch light”/ “Distance yourself from the narrator as far as possible.” We are being shown (before we even get there) that this image may be permanently “burned” into us. And let me tell you, after finishing this read, it is burned into me. I still see it, feel it. It is somehow steeping me like its own cacao-cinnamon tea (“something that is you but made of magic”).

As I entered Level End, I scrutinized this narrative for its base/s. In many of the pieces we are initially brought into sentences with the following line: “When I arrived the music changed.” But after that, each of the pieces seemed to diverge a bit from that initial point of entry.

We go from what feels like inhabiting the overly emotive pixels of a video game moving its figures along (“it is dark in here and you are the only thing that can see”/ “everything I am into something I am not”/ “the eyes from which we see ourselves”) to what feels to me to be surreal time travel and relations within that (“a red not found in nature”/ “all anomalies dabbed over”/ “carry me over felt lines until someone, anyone, can see where I am going”) to a sort of qualitative transdifferentiation (lineage reprogramming: “This is the room that you are locked in- deep within a house that someone else has built”/”we fight through smaller versions of you to get to you”/ “your head where your heart has been”/ “this is what you asked for, and this is what you will have: something larger than you, something rain soaked and wet like a new child, something evil, everything evil, something that can read your thoughts, something that is a thing inside a thing inside of a thing like a nesting doll”). In all of this traversing that the narrative engages us by way of, there is the creation of a sense of looseness in the body. I feel myself becoming a clay doll not yet fired in a kiln. Shapeable and so, being shaped (“to be swallowed whole like a fish is a noble way”)!

There is an overwhelming sentiment of loss as a form of sentience in this book as well (“what is left of us after we have lost everything”/ “instead there is sand in my mouth and there is sand in my heart”/ “when I return after uprooting every garden, you are gone, replaced by a hard bed”). I mean, why uproot “every garden”? To what end? Perhaps to no end. Perhaps this is one (among many) statement of awareness in regard to what is being done within this narrative. Articulating what is being done is different than conveying wisdom. I see no priority of wisdom in a violence canticle transitioning itself from a can’t to a can.

Level End a true leveling? Or a severed lead in a mythology not yet complete (“you will be dead in three days so there is no lid to the jar”)? You decide.


j/j hastain is the author of several cross-genre books including the trans-genre book libertine monk (Scrambler Press), anti-memoir a vigorous (Black Coffee Press/ Eight Ball Press) and The Xyr Trilogy: a Metaphysical Romance. j/j’s writing has most recently appeared in Caketrain, Trickhouse, The Collagist, Housefire, Bombay Gin and Aufgabe. j/j has been a guest lecturer at Naropa University and University of Colorado.