Book: A Greater Monster
Author: David David Katzman
Type of Book: Fiction, experimental, indescribable
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The reasons are numerous and many.
Availability: Published by Bedhead Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:
You can also order this book from The Strand.
Comments: Jesus Christ. The best way I can begin this book discussion is to dare every single one of you to buy the book and read it. I add the dare so that your pride forces you to get the book lest you seem the sort person who shies away from a challenge. I need you to feel your honor is at stake. However, it will be a dare you will be glad you took. A Greater Monster is a book you will need to read at least twice, and even then you will be able to pick it up a third, fourth and fifth time and right around page 40 you will feel like you are reading a new book again. Given that this book has 367 pages, that’s a bargain. In a sense, you will get a new book every time you read it. So really, it’s an economical dare.
The best way to describe the book is to call it experimental fiction because after the first 40 pages or so, it defies any traditional narrative. It’s a drug trip that has a beginning of sorts but no real end. The protagonist slides from one hallucinogenic experience to another, each itself having no beginning and no real end. It’s disorienting and peculiar. But at the end it is a religious experience for the protagonist, a deeply personal descent into the unreal and irreal that make it almost alienating to read. The protagonist wants this trip into a world that has no meaning – if he doesn’t experience real meaninglessness, his life will become even more meaningless. And each trip he experiences means only to me what I assign to it because there is no meaning once the trips begin. Only experience. A nauseating but ordered beginning turns into the protagonist careening in unordered experiences.
I had to read this book in a manner similar to the way I read House of Leaves. The first time I read it in bits and pieces. It’s a dense text and, without any linearity of plot, I don’t recommend reading through it in one attempt the first time you read it. I honestly don’t know if the book would do you any good reading it all at once. It would be like experiencing someone else’s delusions. Before my senior year of high school, I developed pneumonia and had such a high fever I began to hallucinate. My mother found me in the hallway, waiting in line to go to the bathroom. Evidently I was convinced Chinese laborers were using the house as a rooming house and we all shared the same toilet. I could see odors as colors and felt sure there were cows hiding in my room, producing methane gas that manifested as the color orange. Small blue people ran across my bedsheets, warning me I needed to sit up or I would die. My books spoke in foreign languages, the mirrors showed me unseen rooms in the house, and when I later told all of this to the doctor, he flat out did not believe me. My mother told him, with no small amount of anger, that all of that had happened and I still don’t think he believed us.
I hallucinate now with very low fevers and most medical personnel give me the side eye when I report it. I seldom say anything anymore. I’ve had a couple of nurses tell me they do the same thing but mostly I know I am not believed. I used to be offended by it but now I know better. The fever dreams and hallucinations of one man can never really resonate with others unless they, by chance, had the same fevered dream, the same tendency to hallucinate, the same peculiar mindset. That sort of cross-over seldom happens and you find yourself wondering how anyone could see a cow’s flatulence. And that’s why you need to read this book in little bits at first. Otherwise the protagonist’s experiences will become too much as you try to make sense of them. In smaller bits you won’t try to find the common thread, the element that links all these stories together. There may be one but because this is not my hallucination, my drug trip, my terrible fever, the thread is elusive at best.
It took me several months to finish this book the first time. I would back up and try to connect everything I was reading but ultimately that was a loser’s bet. You just have to read in snippets and when you are finished, let it digest and then read it all in one go. This book is a bizarre, at times alienating experience and that may sound unappealing but actually it was quite divine. It was like taking a vacation into someone else’s mind. It was a violent, unnerving, disjointed trip into utterly foreign fever hallucinations and that experience is enjoyable and frightening and fun if you don’t try to force it to make any linear sense.