The term ‘exploded view’ refers to an image in a technical manual that shows all the individual parts of a machine, separates them out, but arranges them on the page so that you can see how they fit together. As the title of Carrie Tiffany’s new novel, it can be interpreted as a definitive metaphor and perhaps, in a somewhat looser sense, an analogy for her evocative technique. Various things happen over the course of Exploded View, some of them dramatic, but the novel has little in the way of a conventional plot. Its characters exist in relation to one another, but they barely interact. There is almost no dialogue. It is the kind of novel in which the psychological and emotional unease is displaced or buried beneath the matter-of-fact narration.
What makes it distinctive is that much of this unease is not conveyed via insinuating moments of dramatic tension; it is approached figuratively and analytically, disassembled using the the novel’s central metaphor as a mechanism. Exploded View draws out the multiple implications of the idea that a nuclear family can be understood as kind of machine, consisting of separate but interlocking parts. It develops this simple analogy into the kind of extended conceit one associates with the metaphysical poets. It reflects on how the individual components fit together, how they function as a single entity, and, more to the point, what might cause such a finely attuned piece of machinery to break down.