Patrick Stendt has always been a sensitive writer. An overly sensitive writer. Creating fiction is, for him, a process that calls for painstaking precision. He approaches the world of fantasy as a historian approaches that of reality. No detail is too small; one cannot be too intensive in the pursuit of background information.
This explains why his novels, up to now, have struggled to get beyond background information. The story never seems to get off the ground; or at least, the story soon becomes something else: what comes before taking precedence over what could be happening now. There is no time for that. The back-story defeats the actual story every time.
His new work, Origins, is no exception. Stendt shows little or no signs of calming down. Here we find him indulging his weakness more than ever; picking at his scabs like a mindless child.
We start with a man and a woman having a conversation on a train. Six hundred pages later the same man and woman are on the train, having the same conversation. About two minutes have passed. That’s 1/5 second every page by my reckoning (slow moving, by anyone’s standards). Stendt, you see, has a real problem when it comes to moving forward. He simply can’t do it. Every small action has to be explained: one has to go back, way back, in order to go forward, slightly forward. We know plenty about the man’s great-great-grandparents, or the woman’s mother’s brother’s dog. But the man himself remains somewhat of a mystery. We know everything and yet nothing about him. The details are there, but the man is intangible – he has no living form. He is what he has been – not what he might become.
Stendt’s characters are explained; their past carefully – oh-so-carefully! – uncovered. But here they end. He can create them, but cannot seem to do anything with them. And so he goes back, again, into the past, to see what else he can recover from the wreckage. All we get (as he seems to have realised) are origins. We know where everything is coming from, but there is never any sense of anything going anywhere.
And so Stendt leaves us: just like that. His man and woman remain on their train, waiting for the sum of their pasts to propel them into some kind of future. Waiting for the back-stories to end, and the main story to begin. Which it never does, of course.