What It Is : A collection including a novella and several short stories from Australian absurdist/bizarro writer Matthew Revert. He also happens to be an incredibly gifted artist who does these brilliant covers for books. As if that weren't enough he is also the co-owner of Legume Man Books. You can find more here: http://www.matthewrevert.com/, follow him on Twitter @MatthewRevert, or poke him on facebook. The novella for which the collection is titled follows the misadventures of a man in search of the perfect bathroom experience, and the surprising turn of events which follow.
Why It Is Awesome : Before I get into this, I would like to offer a few words about my understanding of what the relatively new genre, bizarro fiction, is. Bizarro fiction is a form that refuses to discard wacky ideas that all other genres would deem too silly, strange, shocking, mundane, weird or inconsequential to explore. The ideas that make us most uncomfortable, that make us worry for the sanity of the persons from whence these ideas came. Bizarro is an act by which the writer takes that usually discarded idea, commits to it and sees it through to the end no matter where it goes. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is verboten.
It is all an experiment. In bizarro, as with all other art forms, there's the good, the bad, the stunning and the grotesque. There are experiments that fail and reading bizarro, even the work I am in the process of praising, is not for the squeamish. Bizarro, as a genre, asks a lot of its readers in that as one reads the shocking or strange elements of the story, you have to be a reader that can absorb those particular elements to get the larger picture presented.
This makes it perfect for fans of science fiction and/or horror who have been saturated with known tropes that are still shocking to mainstream audiences but not necessarily to fans of genre. Bizarro and Absurdist lit finds and makes use of formerly unknown tropes. This, in my view, is a win. I am a big fan of weirdness in fiction.
Matthew Revert's How to Avoid Sex offers the best of what explorations of the absurd can yield. It succeeds spectacularly. As a bonus, I laughed so hard in some places that I scared my dog.
I also found myself disturbed, but I don't necessarily see that as a negative. The scenarios within the book are extreme. But then so are the scenarios presented in many other works of fiction that are by now considered classic and also provide much food for thought.
It also takes a garganutan amount of creative bravery to create a work of fiction that goes to such extremes.
The main character, Montgomery has a thing about evacuating his bladder or bowels anywhere there is a possibility that another might enter a stall beside him or be within earshot. This leads him to seek out a perfect restroom within reasonable vicinity to his place of employment. He finds the bathroom in a bamboo forest with the aid of a mute bird man and therein is faced with a most unseemly proposition by over-polite bathroom graffiti.
The protagonist also has an obsession with hats and etiquette to a degree that would make Miss Manners erupt in spasms of self-flagellation for her lack of conscientiousness in this regard. (And that's as far as I'll go with spoilers.) For the most part, the story is delightfully weird and hilarious even as it activates your gag reflex. But here's the thing. Whether intentional or not, a larger theme emerges. The thing that gives this odd tale that extra layer of worthiness is this, the protagonist is so married to his habits, to his notion of who he is and how he should behave that he goes to insane lengths in order to preserve his habits, rather than re-think things and adapt. It is this quality of being stuck, his refusal to grow, which, paradoxically moves the story forward. In spite of the silliness, this quagmire is on every page and offers the audience an opportunity to think about where we ourselves might be stuck, the spaces in our lives where an unwillingness to change or try something new hurts us, holds us back, or actually forces us into behaviors that are cringe-worthy.
So, it's not all poop-jokes and gibbon-killing quests, but those things sure make for an entertaining read. One other thing that I will say about this work is that it offers insights about the human condition. As an example, I give you this quote. "The problem with the human animal is that it is capable of so much more than sex, yet little else tends to motivate them."
Monty's obsession with avoiding sexual contact, his self-imposed repression leads him, later, to the opposite extreme with dire consequences.
Matthew Revert, I must tip my hat to you. In the words of your main character, "You earned it."
Hefner's The Fidelity Wars
What It Is : Indie Brit Urban Folk band Hefner's second album, released in 1999. I used to play songs from this on a radio show called Now Hear This. I recently unearthed it and re-listened and fell in love all over again. (I'll tell you why in the next section.)
You can find out more about the genius of Darren Hayman and company at www.hefnet.com.
Why It Is Awesome : The Fidelity Wars tells the painful, embarrassing, raw story of a break-up. It's coherence as an album following a single theme is remarkable. In 1999 that kind of musical story-telling in rock was already rare, and it has greater rarity now. (I could be wrong. This might be my old-timey ways talking, here.) The lyrics are honest, earnest, full of angst and elegantly wrought with a sort of unapologetic and stark simplicity. Somehow there is evidence of the influence of Motown and old school punk that makes this masterful.
The band, Hefner is no longer making new music, but Darren Hayman (who can also be found on Twitter @DarrenHayman) still is. His newer material can also be found at hefnet.
I could keep throwing words at you, but really if you haven't heard this and you have a thing for music from before the fin de siecle, just listen to it. This ear candy can be found at the website listed above, or here is an example...
Christopher Kubasik's The Booth At The End
What It Is: It is a television show available on the web (hulu.com). Written by Christopher Kubasik, it features actor Xander Berkely as The Man. The Man sits in a corner Booth at the End of the seating area in a diner. (See what I did there?) The Man has with him, at all times, a book. If you were to approach The Man with one of your deepest desires, he would open the book and appoint a task to you. Fulfill the task, tell The Man the details of your progress in fulfilling the task and you get what you want. Except, of course, it is not ever as simple as it sounds.
Why It Is Awesome: First, I have to say that this is a show which is a shining example of what is possible in terms of episodic programming in the digital age. EVERYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN THE BOOTH AT THE END SHOULD SEE THE BOOTH AT THE END!!! Which leads me to why I am doing this write up, now. A lot has been said about this show. It's been around since 2010 on a Canadian network, and was then picked up by Hulu.
You wouldn't think that a show with one setting featuring a nameless character with no clear motivation as to why he does what he does would be that interesting. But it is. The show is extraordinarily engaging, smart, intense and ambiguous. It lays out excruciating moral dilemmas and rather than proselytizing any particular viewpoint or hitting the audience over the head with some sort of obvious loaded statement it lets us puzzle out what we think for ourselves. The Booth at the End is one of those rare experiences that invites an audience to engage, to think, and ask questions of themselves. Juicy, heady stuff, if you ask me.
There are hints of the supernatural, none of which is spelled out. It turns out that the mystery of the Man, his origins, his motivations and his ability to make deals are really fun to speculate about.
Where the intensity and the emotional investment for the audience arrives is through those who apply to the Man for aid. As they tell their stories to him in the diner, they draw us in and the stories, the wishes and tasks become layered with complexity and unexpected consequences. The show explores the marriage of desire and discomfort in a way that I don't think I have seen before and it is truly inspired writing.