A New Sense of Loneliness: Kio Stark’s Follow Me Down
by Kera Yonker
The protagonist in Kio Stark’s Follow Me Down does not want to be followed. Or perhaps she does, but she’ll make sure that you keep your distance. An itinerant observer, Lucy lives in an urban neighborhood where she is clearly an outsider. She wanders her neighborhood with her camera and snaps photos, which, as she states, is a good reason to “stop and stare,” but also a reason to hide in plain sight, always ready to put up another barrier between her and the world. “Sometimes what you want is to be somewhere you do not belong,” she tells us on the first page.
A mis-delivered envelope arrives in Lucy’s mailbox, and when temptation proves too much, she opens it to find a photograph of a man. This brings her out of the periphery of her own world as she asks questions of her fellow neighbors in search of its owner. When given a reason to retreat, she continues her search at her own risk, pushing through to the other side of her self-made barrier that ultimately gives way to a new sense of loneliness.
The landscape of her city is comprised of her observations both of the physical world and its inhabitants. Interactions with these who are consistent in her life are outnumbered by her conversations with strangers, her neighbors, or those she tracks down in her quest to find the man in the photo. Lucy keeps her lover Jimmy and her one friend Natalie at arm’s length, never revealing to them the whole story.
Stark’s deft prose invites us in, her lens always in sharp focus with carefully noted details about the “purgatorial characters” she sees on her morning walk to the subway, the “bloodless” office where she works. All are described in small, finely-detailed strokes, and emotions are given equal care and resonate with her need to be alone, unknown. Explaining to her lover why she left, she states, “My old city fell out of love with me.”
There is no happy ending in Stark’s novel, only a harsh truth in the lives of the people Lucy encounters. Despite her efforts to find a new, different truth for her own life, she remains nomadic and searching.
Red Lemonade Press, 2011