The New Land: A Picture Book - Bill Manhire
These are detached, displaced stories. The people in them are moving through the world (in most stories, literally traveling), seeing things that might look like markers of significance, considering how they themselves look at things. References to history constantly come up as isolated words or objects, conveying little more than "look, this is history", mostly understood very little -- familiar but not rich. The first story, which is unlike all the others in its realistic style, nonetheless fits the theme with its consideration of sightseeing as consciously manufactured memories, attempts to interpret the photographs taken -- is the happiness represented in the photographs what we were feeling then? Did we feel anything then? The metaphor being the mother's work interpreting aerial photographs, painting in the highlights in color, so that the farmers whose lands were photographed can see what parts are significant. (Or there are the people showing objects and photos to the Queen, picking out one thing as what they want to mean something, even though it will be completely isolated to the Queen's eyes.)

There are also repeated appearances by people who make a living off of the scattered, second- and third-hand experiences of the people in the society Manhire describes. In "Ponies", "people drift along, pale, ice-cold, gazing into windows in a way which is almost tranquil, or ride escalators which take them up and down but not quite anywhere". Jason Stretch, in this story, is trying to exploit the anonymous people, but himself is nearly non-existent in the narrator's view, looking like nothing in particular, producing as his product signifiers without a signified. The ponies of the title, suffering and dying in Antarctica, are about the only beings in the entire volume whose emotions are vivid -- their misery is palpable.

The narrator of "Ventriloquial" is a rather more successful entrepreneur than Stretch, turning all the world's magazines into a stew that fills pages and sells ads, attempting to bring together diverse celebrities who are nothing more than names, visiting a succession of ethnic restaurants as week-markers. He attempts to learn ventriloquism, an art of imitation and appearances. He seems quite unaware of the borrowed nature of his life, unlike the protagonists of most of these stories, who tend to be at least partially aware of how they're living and telling their story.

The volume needs to be read as a unit, so that the parodic pieces like "Cannibals" reflect on the others. Actually, I didn't think that one added much to the volume; it just goes on at great length with themes that are also in "Nonchalance" and other stories. But the parody interview in "Some Questions I Am Frequently Asked" shows the interviewed author very conscious of what he is constructing for the readers -- he thinks that people will take him seriously and seems to despise them for that. "The Days of Sail" is a complicated meta-fiction which includes the story that is being written in it. Actually, the whole volume is full of reflections on writing and on its self-presentation, and ends with a mock-index, which includes the entry "Ventriloquism, passim."