Book: Avoiding Mortimer
Author: J.W. Wargo
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Just take my word for it, it’s odd.
Availability: Published in 2013 by Eraserhead Press, you can get a copy here:
Comments: This subtly weird little book is perhaps my emotional favorite of the bizarros I’ve read for this themed-week. It’s got its gross moments – vomit, biting into insects and earlobes – but even the grossness was sweetly restrained given what I have come to expect from the Bizarros. But it must be said that sweetly restrained bizarro is not going to be awesome in and of itself. No, I’m far too sophisticated to be taken in by sweetness. But I do have to say that it is nice to be able to read a bizarro book that I can describe to my mother without making her cry. (And Mama Oddbooks is no lightweight. She was the chief text editor for Deutschland Erwacht when it was published in the USA in the 70s. She knows some stuff. She’s seen some shit. And I still hesitate to share most bizarro plots with her. In short, most of you are monsters.)
The main reason I like this book so much is because I get Mortimer. I’m an Avoider, though I don’t experience anything close to Mortimer’s level of neurotic and thanatotic depression. I love avoiding people. Not because I’m mean or cruel but because I am introverted on a genetic level. It’s actually considered a psychological disorder on my part but I sort of don’t care, even though I enter therapy for it every few years. I prefer not to leave my house and, interestingly, “I prefer not to” is a perfect way to sort of ground yourself when reading this book. There is something very Bartleby about this novella. Though Mortimer ultimately finds a way to stop preferring not to, at least when it matters, folk who just feel tired and itchy around other folk have a hero in Mortimer, whose essential nature is eventually how he manages to become a hero.
I kind of lost the thread in the plot near the end where the exact mechanics of Wargo’s world were concerned, because there were sort of Kafka-esque layers of bureaucracy that I sort of refused to absorb (and I really hate to use the word Kafka-esque because it’s so woefully misused, but there were definitely elements of Kafka in this book, and now that I think of it, I don’t really like Melville or Kafka so it’s surprising I like this book as much as I do). But the gist of the book is this: Mortimer is born to schizoid parents. His sister is avoidant, and as the most socially normal member of a really abnormal family, Mortimer resists when his family undergoes a process that is sort of a living suicide that puts them in a realm between life and death. He eventually gets a factory job that is sort of gross, he has an ant-farm as a pet, and before long he sees no reason to live on. After he cracks in a magnificent manner, he commits suicide and ends up in a bureaucratic hell-hole of an afterlife. Mortimer finds himself with a job in a factory exactly like the one he had in the living world, down to the same boss. He recognizes a woman in the hereafter whom he saw die in the living world and with her he discovers that all is not right in the hereafter. Ultimately Mortimer stages a confrontation with God himself and helps the woman solve some very troubling problems and he ends up in a sort of heaven of his own, a place wherein his essential nature is loved and embraced.
There were some scratchy places in the plot, as I mentioned. But there was enough silliness, even in this novel of a depressed avoidant who loathes being around others, that I didn’t feel too pressed or upset that at times I had no idea what was going on. For example, before he dies, Mortimer eats his ant farm and then barfs it up. The ant farm puke forms a mutant ant-blob that becomes integral to the plot. Ant farm puke saves the day! When there were not enough strange details to absorb me, I just sort of grooved on Mortimer’s avoidance.
In my honest assessment, I fear I may be turning you bizarro extremists off with my wallow in the mild, so let me share some of the more awesome prose in this book. This is from the first page:
To understand Mortimer’s death, we must first focus on his life.
Simply put, Mortimer’s life was shit. It was pure unadulterated liquid feces in which he swam daily -rarely, if ever, coming up for air.
Whether or not this ocean of excrement came from outside forces or was created by Mortimer himself is a moot point. Rather, it is important to ask why Mortimer so insisted upon drowning in a world of filth when he could have just as easily swam to shore, toweled off, and worked toward removing even the very smell of shit from his life.