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SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Theories of Forgetting: A Novel After Robert Smithson
[An excerpt]

Lance Olsen

Filming the cops from his ex-neighbor’s hedge, he is impressed by the clarity of the image his cellphone captures even in this silvering light.

He shoots them rapping on what used to be his, the man’s, door. He shoots them ringing the bell. The woman in the terrycloth robe ushering them into the foyer. The front door closing behind them.

Earlier, he shot her sleeping. He stood above her, recording. He had slipped in through the sliding door off the kitchen which she never remembered to lock. The important thing was how her face kept changing. That’s what he would have said had someone asked. Had someone asked, the man would have said he couldn’t get over it. How her lips, nose, cheeks, forehead, eyes became other people’s: an older woman’s, a younger, a more thoughtful, a less, an elderly man’s.

He decided she might find the footage illuminating at some point. Maybe he would mail it to her. Considering her through his screen, he concluded: we should all see ourselves like this, in this condition of as if.

He concluded: if you’re living, you don’t stand a chance.

He shot the contents of her refrigerator. His refrigerator. Yellow mustard bottle. Two pickles in the cloudy pickle jar. He shot the spines of the books in her upstairs library (there were twenty-seven: not twenty-six, not twenty-eight) and the bric-a-brac congesting the top of her dresser and side tables.

The idea was to understand what kind of person she was when she wasn’t the kind of person who slept below him with a persistent low snore.

The man viewed himself as a domestic anthropologist: what are her practices, her values, her technologies, her economies?

How does she live the way she lives, and why?

He videos the cops when they reappear out front. When they disappear around the side of the house. When they reappear out front.

The young pinkpeach daylight accumulating.

After a while his knees twinge. His lower back. He stands, stretches, cracks his vertebrae with an abrupt twist.

A breath, and he is strolling along the sidewalk, this average-looking guy in a plain white t-shirt, saggy worn jeans, blue baseball cap, pair of new white sneakers, just like everybody else out at this hour of day.

Strolling, he reviews the footage on his cellphone. Sprinklers hiss to life around him. Moist grass. Chemical fertilizer. The overly sweet floral aura of fabric softener seeping into the street from dryer exhaust ducts.

In the city, he thinks, nothing hurts.

He glances up in order to greet the first dog walkers. Waves at the severe man troweling his flowerbed. Nods to the patrol car crawling by.

Yes, he is sure of it.

Bill, he thinks, nodding. I look like a Bill. My Billness.


Dan. Patrick.


—From Theories of Forgetting: A Novel After Robert Smithson (Fiction Collective 2, 2014); reprinted here by author’s permission


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Lance Olsen

is the author of eleven novels, one hypertext, four critical studies, four fiction collections, and two textbooks about writing innovative fiction. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and N.E.A fellowships as well as the Berlin Prize and a Pushcart Prize. His short stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Village Voice, BOMB, and Best American Non-Required Reading. He teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah.

Learn more about Olsen and his work at his innovative website:

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury