Book: The Bizarro Story of I
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: There are many reasons…
Availability: Published by Bizarro Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:
Comments: This book may not be the best bizarro book I have ever read, but it employs one of the best mindfucks that I’ve encountered in this genre. And it’s amazingly simple. The protagonist is named I and the book uses a third person narrative. That really is a pretty simple device, but it forces the reader to pay attention because if your mind wanders the slightest, you find yourself reading a first person novel. But it’s not a first person novel. And you will lose track of that several times as you read this book.
It’s such a strange way to write a book yet so perfect I’m surprised I haven’t seen this before.
Here’s a quick synopsis, as well as anyone can summarize a book like this: I is married to a woman called Anorexia, who is the secret daughter and heir to a kingdom run by horrible, body-building weirdos called the Steroid Cowbiys. She is kidnapped one day and I goes on a quest to find her. He loses his mouth early on and is forced to type out his end of the conversations he has. The plot, like the name trope, is simple – man goes in search of his lady-love, who is in peril. As with all bizarro, the bizarro is in the details. There’s almost an Alice in Wonderland thing going on in this book. I genuinely do not have a chance in hell of explaining the details of this book with anything approaching brevity – they are just that involved and bizarre. I meets a weird little mouse thing called Chocolate Mousse, who corners the market on rat poison and warehouses it so it can’t be used to kill him. I meets a weird fish-woman hybrid called Girlzilla who helps him but also proves to be a bit strange in her own right. He does battle with the family of body-building weirdos and sort of saves his wife but his quest doesn’t end the way you would think. And of course, there is a whole lot more to it than that, but just think of it as a love quest sprinkled with characters that would have deeply disturbed Lewis Carroll.
This book is horribly edited. It would not have made my ten error cut off, but I had read it before I made that declaration, hence this review. But this was also one of the first books released by Bizarro Press. More recent offerings show a vast improvement in regards to editing. But still, this book has a lot of errors. I have to mention it because that’s just who I am. But those who tend not to notice these sorts of things are unlikely to find this book any worse than any other bizarro offering. Just getting this out of the way so I can discuss the rest of the book to my satisfaction.
The use of “I” as a name really is quite interesting because it forces the reader to interact deeply with the text. It reads completely naturally but in the middle of sentences I found myself wondering who the “I” referred to and remembered, “Oh yeah, it’s the protagonist’s name.” In a third person narrative, it should be all the clearer that all those mentions of “I” are referring to the title character but even as I read the last pages, I still had difficulty remembering that simple fact.
Take this passage, where I is watching as his wife is kidnapped.
“I’m not scared of you!” I yelled. “Let her go!”
The leader considered awhile. I noted that the cleaver stuck in his back didn’t appear to be bothering him.”
This was a bit frustrating, but a pleasant sort of frustration.
Here’s another passage:
“Why didn’t you tell her?”
Stalker said nothing, kept packing guns and ammo into a duffel sack. Occasionally, he took a sip from a beer can.
I refused to be put off, however. He turned up the volume on the tablet. “I said, why didn’t you tell…”
“I heard you the first time.”
“Answer me then.”
Stalker zipped up the weapons bag, picked up his beer, sat in a chair facing I. “I’m considering Mousse’s offer.”
This was one of the better examples of how one can get lulled into reading the book as a first person narrative and then have it brought back home suddenly that this is a third person narrative when someone addresses “I” as an individual. It really is strange how well this choice of names works at keeping the reader on his or her toes. And though I did find it frustrating at time, I found this continual refocusing to be entertaining.
In addition to the “I” element, Wol-vriey has a way of writing that is both a cut above most bizarro books yet delightfully accessible. There’s a cadence to his writing that shows this is a man who revels in The Word. When one reads bizarro, one is most often reading for the strange and the disgusting, and those concepts often come at the expense of beautiful writing. This is not a criticism – it is what it is. As long as a book has a hook, some reason that makes it exceptional, it doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful and a lot of bizarro is exceptional without being beautiful. Wol-vriey often manages both exceptional strangeness and lovely writing. This is subject to taste, I know, but let’s look at a passage that shows what I mean.
Here we are learning about Chocolate Mousse, a strange little rodent who lives in what I think is a beverage aeration system.
“Mousse is paranoid – neurotically obsessed with rat poisons and traps, anything specifically designed to eliminate rodents. Its reasoning is – the only good rat poison or trap is that which can’t harm it, which is only guaranteed to be those it can keep its eyes on, so it stocks up on every rodent-extermination device it can buy, beg or steal, or bargain away like in our case.”
“That’s absurd,” I tapped out. “It might as well try to buy up all the rat poison on the planet.”
“It is trying to,” Stalker said. “Cocoa or not – it’s a rodent, they’re not noted for either mathematical acuity or grasp of philosophy. Possibly Mousse thinks this town and the surrounding countryside is the entire world.
His prose flows very well in the places wherein the editing didn’t affect the book. And, as this snippet should show, there moments in this book that are pretty funny.
His writing can be very evocative of other works without the inspiration being too obvious. I mentioned that I felt Alice in Wonderland often as I read this book. I am actually quite tired of Alice references and homages in other works. Lately it seems as if everyone is using Alice as their literary allusion of choice. I cannot begin to tell you the number of books I have been sent to read that are little more than repackaged Lewis Carroll novellas, so I am pretty jaded in this regard.
But Wol-vriey’s use of Alice was subtle, an allusion I picked up on when I was finished with this book. The Queen of Hearts is here, in the form of a mentally retarded giant fish-human hybrid. The Mad Hatter and Dormouse are one character, a chocolate mouse who lives in a beverage aerator rather than a tea cup. Alice’s landscape often shows up in unusual little ways.
The rat trees were spaced about ten feet apart, and were between eight and twelve feet high. The horniness of their bark was overlaid in portions by large fur patches. At their uppermost portions, these furry portions became full-blown meat-flowers, rose-like arrangements of flesh from amidst which man-sized living rat-fruit dangled onto metal tail-chains.
This is very evocative of the painting of cabbage roses in Alice, except these are rats that achieve their strangeness without interference from others.
But there are other child-like allusions in this book of a man rescuing his dangerously thin wife, only to find she was never that thin and never in that much danger. Candy Land, anyone?
“This is very weird shit,” I said after a while of trudging the candy lane. “Who paves a road with chocolate, sweets and licorice?”
“Moot point: you might as well ask who makes a skeleton out of fish, or why the sun in the sky is that goddam gold cow.” She crunched into her candy bar. “What’s important to me is that it’s food – first trip I’ve ever been on that provides its own meals.”
There are other allusions I sensed in this book – the scenes with Dr. Pufflee, the demented doctor-fish who created the fish-human hybrids had a Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove feel to them. The books seems to employ many cultural references.
The story begins to get a bit labored at the end, but had Wol-vriey ended the book when I freed Anorexia, he would not have been able to recreate the Queen of Hearts trial in the form of Girlzilla capturing I, so I can see how it is Wol-vriey continued on. But I will say that all the different allusions and homages at times gave this book a very scatter-shot feeling. The story lacked a unified vision, and I think that may be a common problem in early writing efforts. The writer is shoving all his or her influences into one book and it takes a while for the writer’s unique voice to emerge.
Overall, I enjoyed this book – it had it’s upsides in spite of its flaws. Wol-vriey exhibits a lively imagination and with proper editing and with more time spent developing his voice, his works will have more power behind their punch. I think the reason to read this book is to see how often you drift into reading a first person narrative only to be yanked back into third person when you realize the mistake in how you are processing the text. I recommend this book with the caveat that Wol-vriey really needed a lot more editing to smooth over his prose and to catch mistakes. Since most of my readers are not sticklers about editing, most of you interested in bizarro will find this book worth reading. I may not being giving this book a rave review, but I do know I will check out more of Wol-vriey in the future.