Book: My Landlady the Lobotomist
Author: Eckhard Gerdes
Type of Book: Fiction, novella, bizarro, experimental prose
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, it was published by a bizarro imprint, so that was my first clue. But upon reading, I found that I had never read a narrative style like the one Gerdes employs.
Availability: Published in 2008 by Raw Dog Screaming Press, you can get a copy here:
Comments: This is a book that I almost didn’t review because the very thought of trying to talk about it made me ill-at-ease. I feel this way because from time to time, despite being an indiscriminate reader, I come across a book that makes me search for words and ideas I fear I may not have. I have a good education backing up my opinions, and odd literature certainly is a part of my daily life, but this book is different. It is not different wholly because it is so experimental. I recently reviewed an experimental novel here and had no problem explaining why I thought it a very bad book. But when things don’t work, sometimes it is far easier to say, “Here are the myriad reasons this book stank!” than to say, “This book is good and I don’t entirely know why.”
But I’m gonna give it a shot anyway and if I end up looking like a dumbass, so be it.
My Landlady the Lobotomist is the story of loss, of a man whose mind becomes a splintered place as he deals with the loss of his lover. The narrative divides his grief from his break up into metaphors, stories that reveal his emotional struggle. These stories are fantastic, imbued with a dreamy surrealism that remains ethereal even when the stories descend into gritty detail. The stories are sad dreams, pillowy nightmares and while these stories have a tint of reality to them by dint of the emotions Gerdes shares, the reader is always certain that these tales are nothing more than biochemical reactions in the narrator’s brain.
Which is why it is so appropriate these stories begin with the narrator speaking about living in a boarding house with other men, their landlady a woman known to take parts of their brains to adjust their behavior when their actions become too excessive in any manner. The narrator is helping stage a play for children about Godzilla but the play then takes on a life of its own, as Godzilla rages against the monster She-sus, but also a dragonfly is seeking its angelfish, struggling against the sea, a thugfish and other elements as he ultimately loses her.
I’ll be completely honest here. There were moments I had no idea what was happening in this book and when that occurs, I generally blame the book. But this time I think it was me, literalist that I am, seeking stable ground in a book where the only real knowledge I could have was that love will probably die. So I should have hated this book but I didn’t. This is not a case of the dim embracing the difficult in an attempt not to show their dimness (or at least I hope it isn’t) but rather an admission that despite at times realizing I was in over my head, I loved the prose nonetheless. The humor, the desperation, the at times lovely turn of phrase Gerdes employed.
O Recursion Recursiveness! Every way I look, it’s all the same thing. There is only one blue angelfish, as far as I can tell. I’m not going to settle for catfish. If I need to outwit the thugfish, I will. Shouldn’t be very hard. But the first move is that the Angelfish has to return on her own. If I drag her back slapping and screaming, I come all up in the thugfish’s face, the ocean will declare war on the land and nothing will be achieved. She is not a prize to win. She is a person who is capable of making up her own mind and coming to her own conclusions. If she prefers prison to joy, then she’s with Mrs. Brently Mallard. How sad. But I can’t force freedom down her throat. I can’t make her want to be happy. I know she’s thinking about me. Up from a bubble in the sea, I heard her voice singing a line of a song we both loved. The line was, “the fish will rise from the sea for thee,” and I think was an old English hymn, but for us it took on a very personal meaning. There I go, reminiscing about my lost love. I didn’t want to do that.
This is not the most dancing of passages in this book, but reading it happened upon one of the moments when I was able to grab onto a serious sense that I understood the narrator. His married or not-entirely-single girlfriend chose her standby over him, and with the narcissism of a man who cannot believe he has been rejected for an inferior, a thugfish, he convinces himself she would really be happier with him, if only she would choose happiness. Of course she has chosen what she wants, but there is no way to really look at losing in this manner as her making the correct choice. And even as he is convinced she is singing for him, I really thought instead of Prufrock, who in his maudlin honesty knew that the mermaids would not sing for him.
This novella could be, for me at least, intensely funny at times. Because the narrator’s neurosis seeps through in every story, even the part of his brain that considered itself a monster still had feet of clay.
Godzilla remembered that he was hungry. He ate an ice cream van and would have had bad brain freeze had he still had his forebrain. Plus he had sensitive teeth anyway because he so seldom flossed or brushed his teeth. And his feet hurt. He wished he could wear some comfortable loafers instead of always going barefoot. Smashing buildings barefoot cut up his feet badly.
Godzilla with brain freeze and sores on his feet, battling for his love and he complains…
I wish I could sit down with Gerdes and pick his brain over this book about a brain because as I began reading, I was certain the narrator, once he shed himself of the part of his brain that could not let go of the Angelfish/She-sus (or his landlady forcibly took it from him) he would stop obsessing, he would recover and move on somehow. But that was not the case. He lost his forebrain but still rampaged, still mourned even after the rusty ladle scoops out part of his cerebrum. The book does not necessarily need a firmer conclusion but the end left me itchy, as if there was something in this meditation of loss that I missed somehow. I think I am, at times, a reader who craves conclusion and this fantasy shows, all too clearly, that no matter how robust one’s imagination, no matter what forms one takes in one’s mind, there are some wounds that never heal.
The second chapter niggles at me the most. “The Running of the Rapids” was the chapter I enjoyed reading the most but the chapter that made the least sense to me. A recently single father takes his sons to an annual event in the town, wherein townmembers throw themselves into a rocky river and no one makes it out, drowning, smashing into rocks, bitten by snakes. I’ve reread it twice and while I like reading it, I wish I understood who or what the swimmers were meant to represent. We get a small sketch of each one, all vastly different people, and if they are to represent the various parts of the narrator’s psyche, then there was almost no sense in reading this book as no one makes it out alive. But perhaps I am thinking too hard. While experimental, this is still bizarro and perhaps meant to be absurdist, meaningless actions with meaningless consequences. But I don’t think so. Yet I also don’t know.
Should you read this book? I don’t know the answer to that either, but ideally I think I want you to read it so you can comment here and tell me what you thought of the book, maybe give me your insight. I don’t think you will regret reading it. I enjoyed reaching every chapter, each story, outrageous and fantastic, sly and clever, aching and bleeding. It’s hard as a person who reviews books to say that I liked something but am not entirely sure why, but that is the conclusion I reached with this book. I like it and that was enough. I suspect I will reread it again some time in the future and see what it says to me then.