Anti-Oedipus Press

Recent and Upcoming Indie Book Releases

by
Daulton Dickey.

Absolutely Golden: A Novel
D. Foy
Stalking Horse Press

Absolutely-Golden-Store-ImageIt’s 1973, and a thirty-something widow has been cajoled by a young hippie parasite into financing their vacation to a nudist colony in the Northern California mountains. The night before their departure, however, she arrives home to learn that she and this man will be accompanied by the stripper on his lap. At Camp Freedom Lake, the trio meet a womanizing evangelist, a bumbling Zen gardener, and a pair of aging drug-addled swingers from Holland. Together, they’re catapulted through one improbable event after the other, each stranger than the last, until finally the woman who was dominated by her fear of past and future finds herself reveling in the great here and now.

D. Foy’s Absolutely Golden is a radical departure from his two previous novels, Made to Breakand Patricide. It’s comic, ebullient, magic, light, gently surrealistic. It’s rollicking, effervescent, slyly profound. But more, this brisk tale offers a kaleidoscopic look at parts of the 1970s we haven’t often seen in fiction—nudism, New Age philosophy, Eastern religion, the occult, swingers culture, California culture, and then some.

Best of all, Foy tells his story in the guise of a woman obsessed with the notion that she’ll never find another man until she’s rid of what she believes to be a mysterious curse. As if written in the marriage of Vladimir Nabokov, Renata Adler, and Anaïs Nin, her words transport us from doubt, despair, and dread into states of increasing wonder and euphoria.

Click here to Pre-order or Buy Absolutely Golden

The Abridged History of Rainfall
Jay Hopler
McSweeney’s

rainfall_pb_cover_store_siteThe Abridged History of Rainfall is a finalist for the National Book Award.
Jay Hopler’s second collection, a mourning song for his father, is an elegy of uproar, a careening hymn to disaster and its aftermath. In lyric poems by turns droll and desolate, Hopler documents the struggle to live in the face of great loss, a task that sends him ranging through Florida’s torrid subtropics, the mountains of the American West, the streets of Rome, and the Umbrian countryside. Vivid, dynamic, unrestrained: The Abridged History of Rainfall is a festival of glowing saints and fighting cocks, of firebombs and birdsong.

Click here to Pre-order or Buy The Abridged History of Rainfall

 

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Book Review: Primordial: An Abstraction—D. Harlan Wilson

by
Daulton Dickey.

Primordial: An Abstraction
by D. Harlan Wilson
Anti-Oedipus Press • September 3, 2014
Paperback: 167 pages • 5×8 • $13.95 • ISBN 978-0-9892391-5-8

In “Giles Goat-Boy” (1966), John Barth used universities and academia as the launching pad for an allegory of the cold war. Written in the style of a hero’s journey, and injected with liberal doses of absurdity, Barth’s story stomped across and skewered the cultural expectations, and evaluation, of academic and university life—which in his case doubled as the factionalism and jingoism of competing ideological and military powers.

Where Barth’s novel was a comic, absurd, metafictional romp through a city-sized university, author D. Harlan Wilson’s “Primordial: An Abstraction” is a more visceral—though equally absurd and darkly funny—evisceration of academia and college life, and the strangeness of life in general. It is unrelenting in its absurdity, it’s vitriol, it’s energyprimordialfront—and it’s also a meditation on the redundancies of life, of academia, and of intellectual and individualistic pursuits.

“Repetition is just as good as karma,” the narrator tells us. “Once you embrace it, once you ingest it—you’re bound to wallow in it.” (Wilson: 151)

The story is relayed in the first person by an unnamed professor and academic whose Ph.D. has been revoked. He had been “practicing a questionable mode of pedagogy […] writing a toxic strain of theory.” (Wilson: 11) Without his degree, without his work, he has admittedly lost his identity, so he must return to university to regain both.

This is the coil around which the story is wound, and from it springs humor, farce, and social and cultural commentary, and even brief didactic and philosophical asides. It is a short, minimalist novel told in deceptively simple yet beautifully rendered and subtly complex prose.

From his tyrannical control of his roommates, to his dismissal of his professors, the narrator flows from one facet of college life to the next. But this isn’t your average novel, and it’s not a detailed account of the ins-and-outs of college life. Instead, it is, in a way, an evisceration of academia-as-bureaucracy.

It’s also a book willing to take jabs at boring or uninterested—probably tenured—professors. And it takes a few pot shots at the sexually promiscuous culture, too, in which the students at this university forego casual sex in lieu of making pornos—in the library, the cafeteria, everywhere; a logical progression of sex obsessed, and sexually explicit, youth culture.

“Primordial: An Abstraction” is, in some ways, a Kafkaesque jab at bureaucracy where the acquisition of knowledge, even trivia, becomes the narrator’s castle. Through inquiring about details of his courses and his curriculum, the narrator is confronted with confusion and scorn without getting the answers he requires. Like Kafka’s doomed K., the narrator here can’t even get a straight answer when seeking trivia, in this case about a long dead pop star:

I say, “Did Mama Cass really choke to death on a hamburger?”

The grad student looks at the Professor. The Professor looks at the Dean. The Dean looks at another Dean. The other Dean looks at another Dean. That Dean looks at the Provost. The Provost looks at the President. The President looks at his mom.

His mom shrugs.

I say, “Well what good are you people? What good is any of this?” I gesticulate at the University. (Wilson: 94)

One subtext that sticks out is the juxtaposition of violence and academia, as if Wilson—or the narrator—is lobbing complaints against the diminished cultural stature of intellectualism and academia in favor of violence and war. The violence is also what you might expect when you force a brute—whether it’s a homo sapien or a simian—into a rationalized, institutional setting.

But in “Primordial: An Abstraction,” the violence largely springs from the once-and-future academic himself: the unnamed narrator. Muscular, he can bench 300 pounds, and he sticks to strict exercise and dietary habits. He also possesses the temper of a banshee on meth.

In many ways, he’s like a cross between Raoul Duke, Henry Rollins, and Jacques Lacan. He possesses a fiery intellect and an inability to refrain from ridiculing—or even assaulting—those he feels worthy. He is, in a sense, the muscular, short-tempered incarnation of Ignatius J. Reilly—if Sam Peckinpah had directed an adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

But despite its aggression, the book is funny, with dialogue veering into Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and Donald Barthelme-esque territory—but devoid of puns or other cheap humor. It’s farcical but not whimsical or—the dread of all dreads—zany. It’s funny the way Hunter S. Thompson was funny: vicious, cruel, aggressive. But this book possess the spirit of farce absent fdharlanwilsonrom the works of a writer like Thompson.

Also, like the works of a writer like Thompson, or even Anthony Burgess, much of the humor is born out of a combination of the situation and the character of the narrator himself:

Sometimes, when I am revising my manuscripts, I forget to breath. My roommates have to remind me. I don’t like it. I don’t like them to talk at all. But they see my face go red and then gray and finally purple and despite how much they hate me they can’t shoulder the burden of my potential death. Stockholm Syndrome.

Some of them enjoy it when I flog them.

One of them asks for it.

I don’t enjoy flogging people. Not for any reason. But the Law is the Law and somebody must uphold it.

I use a cat o’ nine tails that I purchased as a Boy Scout. I can’t remember where I purchased it. But I had my uniform on when I gave the cashier my bills and coins.

I never stop flogging my roommates until I draw blood and they are sufficiently terrorized, i.e., happy. (Wilson: 73)

School life and the rigors of academic pursuits are presented vaguely—an abstraction. Work is never mentioned in detail. Classes are never mentioned in detail. This vagueness is possibly a commentary on the routine—the redundancy—of college life; or, perhaps the narrator is too narcissistic or solipsistic to dwell on anything other than himself: this is a fiercely subjective narrative.

Classrooms, although presented vaguely, are still presented as farcical—where the farce is the product of the narrator’s aggressive personality and the professors’ tired routines. He beats and bullies teachers, he dismisses or bullies students; and when he gets on with students, he ignores everything around him in lieu of conversation, even if it disrupts class. Also throughout the novel, there’s an underlying shot at the state of the hierarchy of modern, corporate-influenced universities.

In the hands of a lesser writer, a book like this might be bloated and long winded and tangential. But in Wilson’s hands, it’s navigated brilliantly and smoothly by Wilson’s mastery of the craft and his sparse, concise prose.

None of the faculty retire. They work until they die, often in the middle of lectures, barely able to articulate a coherent sentence or even stand up straight.

Administrators typically retire after two or three years, at which point they generally become fulltime Rotarians, spend more time on the golf course and the tennis court, and live forever.

This is not the case with the President, Provost, and several other kakistocrats.

They never retire.

They remain in office until somebody shoots them and claims their thrones.

I don’t know what happens to the staff. They lack one of two vital ontological components: the power of capital or the awareness of intelligence. Hence nobody at the University cares about them. (Wilson: 130)

Through its jabs at university life, through its invocations of violence, through its didactic tangents, brief as they may be, something close to humanity punches through every now and then, and the narrator is cast as more than an aggressive bully.

At its core, the novel is an existential examination of life, knowledge, and the pursuit of what once seemed graspable. Memories pop into the narrator’s mind, and they tend to show him as vulnerable, naive, uncertain. On the rare occasion he lets down his guard, he reveals himself as confused and as vulnerable as everyone else. “I write because I’m weak!” he shouts at one point.

And though, like K. in Kafka’s “The Castle,” or like George Giles in Barth’s magnum opus, the narrator continues to pursue a goal not likely attainable, and although his anger and aggression more often than not defines him, he continues his quest. For, in the end, the quest is all he has. It defines him. After losing his Ph.D., his identity, what does he have left?

“Most of adult life is spent discovering the mystery of how very little you matter,” he says early in the novel. And it’s a profound line smuggled into a fierce, aggressive, and philosophical gem of a novel, which is one of the best books of the year.

Click here to buy the book (and you should buy it here; this is an indie publisher; support them directly)