When I opened Thresholes, I was met with circles, or, holes. And words and sentences and musings threaded between them. There are big blocks of longer personal anecdotes and paragraphs about Bronx history or art installations or films. (Though everything here is personal.) There are singular lines of few words and short meditations on choosing words and creating what I was holding in my hands. And this formatting builds its own visual art; it took me along and held my gaze.
As I read Thresholes in this new world of sheltering in place, the pandemic always looming when I read or do anything, I found some comfort in Montes’ prose. I found myself alone and reading parts aloud to fill the emptiness (holes?) around me. At one point she describes having to stay home due to a terrible snowstorm in Minneapolis and making an appointment by phone instead of in person, and my quarantine perspective could only smile:
“I was tempted to cancel because I wasn’t at all sure how we would materialize in this new circumstance; who would we be without our bodies? How would we show up? I was made anxious by all the unknowns.”
I, too, have been stuck inside and unable to travel due to a snowstorm in Minneapolis in the past. That long weekend is the main reason I’ve never flown to Minneapolis in the winter again. And I’ve thought of that weekend during the eight weeks I’ve been inside my home, looking out into a world that seems the same from my window but carries more meaning than one could deduce just from sight. It’s not piles of snow or white-out conditions. That emptiness again; the holes that Montes’ prose alludes to—though she could not know.
And yet she even references an epidemiological study: I sat up when Montes drops the title A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled. Montes describes the deteriorating city services to the Bronx, and the disasters that propagate more disasters of public health of the borough where she grew up. She follows up this section with:
“My sense of time, even my sense of touch
is shaped by the death I write towards now”
Yes, I took a deep breath there, too.
More than speaking to my current state of affairs, though, Montes explores the personal. Montes is reconciling something within these pages, or with something, but she won’t spell it out for the reader—her words will make you feel it. There are empty spaces she does not reveal to the reader. She is confident in her elusiveness.
The processing through writing is evident—”I wrote, I stretched, I let language in”—and the reader explores with her though you may just be witness to the healing and not the specifics of her trauma. A friend uses the phrase “knowledge-producing event” in lieu of the word trauma, and it echoes later when Montes discusses the film Shame (2011). We are not privy to her own knowledge-producing event(s), we stay with Montes in the present, though she decorates her writing with tales of the Bronx of the ‘70s and ‘80s, with the films and art installations she witnesses and examines. In one case, after seeing a Bronx artist’s installation, she writes:
“I consider the work that memory does, the way it makes itself known and, in response to feeling, changes, transforms.”
There is something wild in her words though they come across tempered with references, quotes, and historic facts. It’s not quite the same as the academically dense musings of The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, but the ideas hit me in a similar way, though more tangible even for all of the evasiveness. I pause, re-read, my mind may drift into other thoughts. I return. Montes’ writing is magnetic.
The very title of Thresholes seems to be missing a key, seems so close to ‘threshold,’ a common word. Montes explains where the title comes from when she mentions the artist, ‘anarchitect’ Gordon Matta-Clark, a sculptural artist from the 70s who worked primarily by deconstructing buildings, many in the Bronx. I love a book that makes me seek out visual art I'm unaware of; Montes does this with Matta-Clark in the same way that María Gainza’s Optic Nerve did for me earlier this year with several artists, or how years ago I read The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Peña and discovered the photographer Francesca Woodman. Montes mentions the pull of Matta-Clark’s concept and word play of his piece Threshole, part of a series entitled Bronx Floors (1971-1972) in which he cut large four-foot holes into walls and floors of abandoned buildings. She remarks on the work's masculinity, and:
“As a woman writing alongside this work (and maybe in homage), I have wondered how to translate that process, a series of gestures, back into words.”
Montes succeeds; she's an artist herself. I thought of these authors whose writing evokes art in a different way than visual forms, reaching people on the same cerebral level that architecture or film might—but different, right? Something a little more intimate about holding the art in your hands, and nobody else being able to see what you see or perceive it as you, this person; as you, in this moment. The moments you read over time, and contemplate. Even writing this review, I think I've read Thresholes now a few times. I glean something new in each experience of its words. I'm sure I'll return to it several times over the years, too. I expect I'll reach for it a lot during this continuous quarantine.
Holes stretch between past and present, between the Bronx and Minneapolis, between reader and author. Montes is making connections, reconciling, in these pages, and its beautiful to bear witness.
“Everything we need to live we carry inside; everything
we need is already in us to write.”
By Lara Mimosa Montes
112 pages. 2020.