On the one hand, I don't really understand why a novel like K.B. Dixon's Andrew (A to Z) (Inkwater Press) isn't published by a larger, "mainstream" press rather than the small, essentially regional press that has published it. (Inkwater is located in Portland, Oregon, and, as far as I can tell, attention to the book has been confined mostly to the Pacific Northwest, including a review in the Oregonian, the only review the book has garnered.) It offers a reasonably engaging protagonist, who, as the novel's first-person narrator, possesses a generally lively writing style that at times can even be rather penetrating, and it is structured in a mildly unorthodox way--through alphabetically arranged entries that make the story of Andrew a kind of lexicographical guide to his life--that piques the reader's interest but surely doesn't really pose a threat to narrative coherence for most readers. It's at least as good as most of the "literary fiction" published by even the biggest New York publishers, and I have to conclude that the decisions by which this sort of fiction is published by these publishers are entirely arbitrary, at best guided by some wild guess about what might prove suitably commercial.
On the other hand, that one could imagine such a book as Andrew (A to Z) being brought out by a large commercial press suggests its most significant limitation as a putative work of "experimental" fiction, which its structured fragmentation clearly enough broadcasts it to be (and under which heading the Oregonian review introduces it). While the dictionary-entry form the novel assumes does fracture the "story" into seemingly arbitrary bits, ultimately the entries themselves still seem to have been chosen to illustrate certain pre-chosen features of Andrew's life and circumstances that eventually do add up to a fairly conventional account of a lightly-alienated, white collar employee and his elementary-school teacher wife. Fragmentation as a narrative strategy has by now been pretty thoroughly assimililated into the fiction writer's available array of structural devices, and unfortunately Andrew (A to Z) doesn't make especially provocative use of it. It presents us with the details of Andrew's experiences and obsessions in a shuffled, nonlinear fashion, but finally doesn't really encourage us to reflect very much either on the fragmented way in which we do in fact experience much of our lives or on the further variations that might be wrung out of fragmentation as a literary motif or narrative method.
Part of the reason why the alphabetic organization of this novel doesn't finally add up to much more than a modestly entertaining exercise in controlled discontinuity is perhaps that the underlying narrative is so familiar. Not much literally happens in Andrew (A to Z), for reasons Andrew himself ponders near the end of the novel: "My aversion to conflict and and the respectfulness with which I indulge that aversion makes me inherently undramatizable. There is no rising action in the story of me; nothing is set in motion by an exciting force because exciting forces are invariably neutralized by my incessant, quasi-pathological cautiousness."
This brief metafictional moment would seem to be the author's ironic comment on the fact that he has created a character who doubts "there is a place for me in fiction." Through the gradual accretion of evidence that Andrew is indeed largely "undramatizable," Dixon has dramatized Andrew"s very lack of dramatic interest. He is a modern American suburban man who doesn't quite understand how he got to be such, but who accepts his status more or less passively. He's a pretty keen observer of the confusions and limitations of his life, but he can't really bring himself to do anything in particular to change it. To me, this has become an increasingly commonplace kind of character in American fiction, and an increasingly uninteresting one, and Andrew (A to Z) does little to elevate such a character to a more consequential status as a "representative" figure in American life. The best he can do is provide the character with a quietly sardonic voice and the occasional perceptive remark. Which aren't nothing. Any novel containing passages like this is still worth reading:
It's entirely possible that there are too few intravenous drug users in my life--at least that's the feeling I get from Stephen who has a life full of them. According to him, if you are not personally acquainted with someone who's in prison for murder, then you are not leading a vital, authentic life. If your girlfriend hasn't burned you with a cigarette or stabbed you in the buttocks with a penknife, then you are not living at the white-hot center of it as you should be. But then, of course, Stephen is a romantic.