Book: The Egg Said Nothing
Author: Caris O’Malley
Type of Book: Bizarro, fiction, novella
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s bizarro, of course.
Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: So Bizarro Week comes to an end with Caris O’Malley’s The Egg Said Nothing, but of course I need to get some business taken care of before we can move on to the book discussion. Because I really want to showcase the awesomeness of the New Bizarro Author Series, I am giving away a free copy of every book I discussed this week. All you have to do to enter to win a copy of O’Malley’s book is to leave a comment to this entry and I will put your name in the drawing for the book. Leave the comment today, 2/18/11, before 9:00 pm CST.
To the book. I’m gonna come out right now and say I am unsure if I really know how this book ends. I have an idea that I might know but I am sort of unclear if I genuinely understand how O’Malley concludes this book aside from the fact that that the protagonist seems to get caught in a never ending spiral of trying to do the right thing but being prevented from succeeding. He is literally being prevented from making difficult moral decisions by the man he once was. I tried to talk about the book with a friend and she immediately referenced the movie Inception, which I have not seen and likely never will, and I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it but you never know – that information may mean something to one of you.
Let me offer as much of a synopsis as I can without completely spoiling the book: Manny lays an egg. He wakes up one morning and he finds himself bare in the nether regions with an egg between his legs. Manny is sort of hostile and paranoid. He’s probably got that avoidant personality disorder that’s become all the rage now. He finances his life by stealing money from wishing fountains. He spends most of his time watching television. But when he sees the egg, it triggers in him something that is a mixture of the maternal and the paternal and he tries to take care of the egg. He goes to a diner and meets a waitress whose teeth, skin and scent enchant him. They hang out at a laundromat and eat vending machine food. They fall in love fast because they have to because this is a novella and they have sex and the egg… Well it doesn’t hatch so much as it breaks and what is inside is unexpected. What is inside I will not state explicitly because I think that would be the first link in spoiling the chain of the plot but the contents of the egg begin a series of circular events that test Manny’s mettle, his love for this new woman who offers him a new life, his morality and his sense of reality. Manny is given the chance to prevent a series of events that will trigger a world-wide catastrophe but he will have to make decisions no man should be asked to make. All in all, this is a really loopy, sad, absorbing look at a miserable hipster who lays an egg and changes his life only to have to destroy all that makes him happy in order to achieve a higher moral end.
Gah, I hate synopses that vague but the fact is, this is one of those books you need to buy and read and absorb. It crams an astonishing amount into a novella and despite the brevity, will cause you to think in depth about the plot. You will wonder about Manny’s morality. You will find yourself Googling quantum physics and wondering if there is a way the plot could have happened. It will make you question at what point we are asking too much of a person, in that post-college way when you wondered, if time travel were possible, if you would have strangled an infant Hitler or killed your grandfather in order to save the world if it meant that you were essentially ensuring you and your family would never exist.
And in the midst of creating these sorts of thoughts, O’Malley also creates a hero I could identify with all too well. I loved Manny. Loved him. If I had a penis and was single, I could have been Manny (before reading this, I dreamt I gave birth to an enormous goldfish and knew it was a baby even as it swam in a big tank though the doctors and family told me it was a fish so maybe I was in a the right frame of mind when I began this book). Manny’s love of John Hughes films also covered a bit of common ground with me. But mostly I loved Manny because he was such crank before he fell in love.
Take this passage that occurs early in the book, just after he discovers the egg:
When I woke up, I had this odd sensation. My lower half felt more sensitive. Felt exposed. If you’re the sort of person who sleeps nude, you might not understand. Or maybe you will. Maybe that’s why you do it. But, for my own reasons, I never do. It’s uncomfortable for me. I have a healthy sense of of shame about my person. Only rarely does someone come into my apartment. And if that person comes in while I’m sleeping, that person will not find me without my clothes on.
I hear Manny on this one. I don’t even like being barefoot. If a fire breaks out in the house and I am naked, I will have to remain naked because I will have to round up the cats and get them out of the house and there will be no time to get dressed so unless I am in the shower when the fire breaks out, I have seriously mitigated the chances of being found naked by firefighters or helpful neighbors trying to stop the conflagration. I’ve given this a lot of thought, as has Manny. We know you can never work too hard to ensure a state of complete body coverage.
But Manny shows even more so how we are on a common wavelength, following immediately from the above paragraph:
And that person will never find me in any state of undress because people do not come into my apartment without me knowing about it. And I would ever let anyone in while I was sleeping. I’m not the kind of guy who leaves a key under the mat so visitors can come as they please. I have a single key to my apartment on my chain. The only other copy is buried in a park six miles away. It is in an unmarked hole. And everything I just said about the whereabouts of my spare key is a lie because I don’t want you to know where my goddamned key is.
While I have not become as lock conscious as Manny, I will say that if I still lived in an apartment, I would mimic putting a deadbolt on the side where the hinges are. I can’t believe I never thought of that on my own and I totally do not think his eight locks are a sign of complete paranoia. I say this not only because of the naked matrix but also the dreaded “finding a couple of drunk drag worms in my living room in the middle of the night, scaring the cats” scenario that played out in my funky, downtown, shithole apartment in 2000. There is a fine line between paranoia and plain common sense and I may not be the person to declare Manny a genius among men, I know that, but I liked Manny more than any character I have read in a while, which probably says a lot about me, I think.
Just the way Manny thinks is wonderful to me:
There the egg sat. If it had eyes, I’d say it looked at me hopefully, but, since it didn’t, I’ll say instead it looked at me speckled. It was a light blue with reddish speckles. Like I think a robin’s egg might look, only bigger. But I’m not aware of ever seeing a robin or its egg, so I have no real way of knowing.
I like this manner of meandering, this sort of non-linear wandering through a logical yet disorganized mind.
Because Manny is eminently logical, though utterly random:
On a big enough scale, everything is less weird than something else. It’s more probable for me to have laid an egg than for me to have laid a perfect twelve-inch replica of the Statue of Liberty. Which, in itself, is a thousand times more likely than laying a perfect functioning replica of Ivan Raimi.
This is sort of weird in a way because this is the second time in less than a year that I have found myself on a near-perfect wavelength with a male character named Manny. I absolutely loved and seriously understood Manny DeLeon, the hero of Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster, an utterly norm book. If it happens a third time, I suspect I will have to get some sort of literary intervention.
My love for this Manny makes perfect sense because despite being the sort of man who is paranoid, grumpy, sort of grubby and of decidedly poor eating habits, after inspecting his nethers to see if passing the egg had damaged him in any manner, Manny begins to nurture the egg. He pulls out blankets and tucks it in. He calls 9-1-1 for advice but comes up empty handed and just wings it, so to speak. He regards the egg:
It looked kind of like me, I think. As much as such a thing can look like a person. It looked like an introspective egg.
“What do I do with you?” I asked the egg.
The egg said nothing.
So he covers the egg with towels and sets up a space heater to ensure this egg that sort of looks like him survives. Someone calls him and tells him to destroy the egg but he doesn’t, even though the voice calling him sounds like his own. And in the name of all that is wordy with me, it kills me but I sort of have to stop because it is here that the metaphysical ramifications of the book show themselves and to discuss them in depth will destroy the reason to read this book. Just know that in a world where time is linear and dimensions are finite, none of this book is possible. The end of the book happened before the egg was ever laid but the egg had to be laid before the end could happen and it goes on in this manner, making you realize that you should have known by page 11 that none of this was going to end in a manner that seemed possible:
The egg was akin to a child, an unwilling, unknowing collection of matter, thrust into a nasty world. Imagine, for a moment, what it’s going to be like for whatever’s inside that egg. Even if it’s human, life is going to be hard
You see, by the strange quantum physics in this novella, he knew what was inside that egg even if in that portion of limitless dimensions available to him he didn’t know he knew. And once you read the book and ponder that fact, this whole book, ostensibly about a cranky dude who watches movies on TV and lays an egg and falls in love and has to make all kinds of draconian decisions when all he really wants to do is watch The Breakfast Club, eat potato chips, nurture his egg and hang out with his new girlfriend, is really a manifesto about the nature of reality and morality. Manny is Everyman, No Man, and lives in an existential clusterfuck that ensures his life is not going to turn out how he deserves even though he proves despite his curmudgeonly paranoia that he is a man who is capable of love, dedication and selflessness.
I think that despite the fact that I love the characterization in this book and just like Manny in general, that the real reason that you should read this book is that in all the potential choices of how to handle Manny, O’Malley never took the easy way out or resorted to cheap sentimentality. There is no deus ex machina. There’s just Manny, the egg, the girl, modern technology and terrible choices. The phone psychic who knows her shit cannot save him. The girl, whose name is Ashley, cannot save him. And the hell of it is, even he cannot save himself because as this book proves, Manny is literally his own enemy.
And sorry all I can provide you with is a lot of talk about the metaphysics of the book, vague discussions of how well O’Malley handles the plot, and portions of Manny’s thoughts that were especially akin to my own paranoiac synapses. But I want you to buy this book and read it cover to cover and come back here and tell me what you thought. This book shows O’Malley has a fine sense of the odd, a clever but snarky mindset and a masterful hand at plot and he needs to be able to write more books. As awesome as the New Bizarro Author Series is, authors have to prove they can be money makers in order to get a book contract. Let’s all buy this book and ensure we get to hear more from O’Malley.
And today is the last giveaway, and I want to thank everyone who commented faithfully. I wish I had a million dollars and could give a book to everyone who comments, but since I can’t, please be sure to come back because I plan to have more themed weeks in the future. March will be zombies and, yes, there will be free books. But please leave a comment if you would like to enter the drawing for a free copy of The Egg Said Nothing. You have through 9:00 pm CST today, 2/18/11, to leave a comment and that comment will enter you in the drawing.
I want to thank everyone who helped make Bizarro Week so fun for me. I appreciate the authors for spreading the word and I’ve enjoyed reading all the new people in my comments, notably Hira H, Omino, Evil Gringo, Monsieur, my excellent friend Ted from Romania, and all my friends from my personal blog. I love talking about books, I love giving away books and this week has been a blast because of all the excellent people who commented here. Thanks to every single one of you.