Author: Arthur Graham
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because the narrative is so strange I almost put it aside but Graham’s snarky cleverness made me continue reading until that magical moment when it all made sense.
Availability: Published by Bizarro Press in 2012, you can get a copy here:
(check out the Kindle version – as of this posting it is $.99, which makes taking a risk on a new author a bit more appealing)
Comments: This is going to be a hard book to discuss because half of the pleasure (and aching frustration) of reading this book is the revelation you experience when it all makes sense. I don’t think I will be giving too much away, however, when I tell you that the e-book I read had an ouroboros preceding the first chapter. This is a clue of sorts. Actually, it’s not a clue of sorts – it’s a big, honking clue – but in such matters, I admit, I often have to be hit with a shovel before I understand that an illustration is not just an illustration.
Here’s a quick synopsis that I hope gives nothing away. This book is a series of stories and it is your job to put them all together. The book features an orphan who tells his life story. It also features a strange drifter who turns into a snake. There’s also a horrifying dystopia a thousand or so years into the future wherein global warming is no longer questioned as a valid reality and, most interesting to me, some meta wherein an editor interacts with a book, which may or may not be this novel.
I really didn’t like this book at first and almost set it down around page 40 because I seriously had no idea where it was going. But even in the initial seeming-chaos of the plot, Graham’s engaging writing style kept me going. I am also not generally the biggest metafiction fan because meta as a plot device has lately become tiresome. Writers need to have a good reason for using meta elements and need to be good enough at their craft to pull it off. Writers like David Foster Wallace (whom I find very nearly unreadable and I receive a lot of flak every time I reveal this opinion) and Charlie Kaufman have spawned a lot of imitators who mistake endless snarky self-reference for fine writing and invoke meta rather than write a good novel. I am happy to say that Graham’s meta – if it is meta – works.
So with that caveat out of the way, let me share some of Graham’s fine and interesting writing. Here’s a bit from the very beginning, wherein the orphan is describing his very strange yet hum-drum life with his aunt and uncle, a life that can be summed up as eating, reading and masturbating. Were it not for his guardians’ behaviors, his life would have been boring.
It wasn’t that aunt was a particularly bad cook; she just wasn’t very imaginative. In fact, the only way I could tell the difference between breakfast, lunch, and dinner was by observing the behavior of those providing my board. For instance, I could always tell that it was breakfast time when uncle would ignore the food in front of him, opting to lift a newspaper between us for the duration of the meal, before hurrying out the door and off to work. Lunchtime came when only aunt and I were present at the table, and just in case I forgot that uncle never came home for lunch (working far away as he did), aunt would always make sure to weep quietly across the table from me, so as to prevent any upsetting confusion.
One could usually tell when it was dinnertime by the piercing shrieks and deafening bellows emitted from aunt and uncle, respectively. These periodic outbursts were sometimes punctuated by long periods of silence, but occasionally their alternating high and low frequencies would reverberate throughout the entire meal without pause.
This is a good representation of what you need to expect when reading this book. This little sample of the story sets the reader up nicely – a teenage boy in a boring house with an uncle who, like some 1950s sitcom parody, checks out at breakfast, hiding behind a newspaper. But then we get the aunt who weeps every afternoon, followed by the aunt and uncle fighting all night long, which is so common to the narrator that it isn’t even distressing or tiresome. It’s just part of the landscape of his life. This sort of bland acceptance of the strange or upsetting happens often in this book. There is always something just a bit off about everyone. It is that unsettling characterization combined with a touch of lunacy in Graham’s storytelling that will keep you going when you get frustrated by the plot. (And you will get frustrated by the plot – I promise that will happen. You just have to stick it out.)