“The Knife in our Soul”: Robert Brockway’s The Unnoticeables

Whether it’s Binary, HTML, Spanish, Cuneiform, or Sanskrit, there’s no denying language is how we store knowledge and no matter what someone says, we have no language to accurately describe the concept of God. Alpha and omega, Allah, Michael and a host of other pseudonyms belie the fact that no one knows exactly what God is.

Except maybe Carey, a New York City punk in the grungy 80s underground of Robert Brockway’s The Unnoticeables. Carey’s friends are slowly disappearing and while the rest of New York is completely oblivious to a few missing strung-out punks, Carey can’t shut his eyes. These people mean something and he will fight for them.

Served in non-linear narrative fitting a God not bound to time, Carey delves deep into a terrifying underworld of back alley tar men who dissolve their victims and agents with faces who can’t be recalled. He stumbles onto dehumanizing and debasing rituals where scores of people are disabused of the notion of themselves and beg for something to ease the pain of their existence. All of them being prepared for something bigger.

Told with a comedic flair, Brockway’s novel is impossible to put down. It deftly moves at a breakneck pace without sparing character development and, underneath it all, it’s clear Brockway has spent a long time contemplating how language fails when describing the divine. Strewn throughout the book are brilliant passages that ruminate on what it means to know and understand God. The underlying truth is, he doesn’t care who you are. Do you care about the family of the ant you squish? Of course not. You care about making your world spin, putting food on the table and if your baseball team wins. If your boss will notice your new skirt or if you have enough beer in the fridge. In a cosmic sense, the details of our lives mean nothing.

Nirvana, rapture, redemption–which can literally be defined as being exchanged for something of value– are some of the best terms language can afford for transcendence. Yet, they may reference a terrifying event. Truly communing with God might erase everything about you. Your love of cheap wine, your inexplainable love of bicycles, the smell that reminds you of grandma’s house and the verse that soothes your soul. As you’re made new and hollowed out, fed into a machine serving a greater purpose, everything about you will be overwritten.

You will become Unnoticeable.

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