Judith Ann Moriarty
Good Read

The Sound of the Horn

By - Aug 8th, 2010 04:00 am
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I first met Nicholas Frank when he wandered into the Art Muscle offices on 10th and National, well over a decade ago and when I was the popular magazine’s editor and publisher. Initially he designed ads for us, but it wasn’t long before he asked for (and received) permission to produce an entire issue.

A local critic remarked that the Frank issue was one of the best Art Muscles, and that’s saying quite a lot. It’s my recollection that he was also shepherding the modest Hermetic Gallery around the same time. Frank had the touch of a genuine artist back then. He still does.

Over the years, he’s risen to great local fame, both as a curator of spunky, intelligent exhibitions at UW-Milwaukee’s Inova in the Kenilworth building, and as an exhibiting artist and lecturer. He hasn’t isolated himself in Milwaukee. Global is his middle name. Don’t think of him as some sort of elitist snob trying to weasel his way into “The Scene.” For him there is no scene. In my hallway is an oval-shaped frame painted by Frank. “After Morandi” holds no image. It is the image. If you can’t grab that concept, stop reading this.

And so it was that I was pleased to see his The Sound of the Horn, a slender and beautifully designed (by Paul Stoelting) new novella. It was sitting on a shelf in Farwell Avenue’s Green Gallery, the same gallery that published the work, and on the day I strolled in, was exhibiting Frank’s marvelous series of abstract meanderings.

I read the 52-page tale, a volume that in its quiet sureness is barely there, though it’s a tale well told. It shouts not. Between the sturdy covers (horizontal lines of black and white, perhaps designed to suggest lines on a page awaiting musical notations) are words enough rather than words too many.

The main character is a horn, or rather, the sound emitted from a horn, in this case the sound a car horn makes: not a brief beep beep, but a prolonged, relentless tone seemingly near, then far, but the source of it is where? It permeates the small town, the small taverns, and eventually the blank minds of the colorless inhabitants. The style of the story-telling is very like Poe’s. It starts out small and builds to fill each crack and crevice, rather like the thrum thrum thrum in The Telltale Heart.

Do any of you readers know where Eau Seche is? It’s certainly northern (the setting is winter). It could be a Kafka winter for all I know. This is perhaps one of the loneliest stories I’ve read recently. It’s the stuff of the Twilight Zone where nothing much matters and never has. The silence rings as true as the sound of the horn.

What’s that I hear in the distance? From down by the river under the bridge in a nothing town out there?

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