Flesh Made World – Review Copies Available

img_4484Rooster Republic Press

For Immediate Release

Review Copies for Flesh Made World, an experimental novel by Daulton Dickey, Now Available

fleshmadeworlddaultondickeyDeath surrounds Sarah and Daulton. While grieving for their loved ones, they each must navigate a universe where time isn’t linear, where memories and fantasies collide and merge with reality. The dead haunt them, the world shifts and changes, and time disintegrates. Slipping in and out of the present, they relive moments from their past—and they never know when they’re in the present. As the shifts increasingly dominate their lives, as their grips on reality loosen, Sarah and Daulton struggle to find a way to orient themselves in the present, to escape the infinite loop of pain, suffering, and confusion. If they can’t find a way out, then will they be trapped in a kaleidoscope of torment and grief?

 An experimental novel about death, the nature of memories, and reality, Flesh Made World thrusts readers into a hallucinogenic universe where space and time constantly unravel. Completed a day before the author voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital on suicide watch, the novel depicts people—and minds—in the grips of suicidal depression and existential terror. (more…)

On Writing and Bestsellers—and Lobster and Lizard People

Daulton Dickey.

writer-605764_960_720Encountering lobster- or lizard-human hybrids occurs frequently when you’re an imagination masquerading as meat. I bumped into one or the other at least once a day; and whenever I do, they say, “Daulton, why do you insist on writing easy-to-read bestsellers?” To which I reply, “I am a professional. I go where the people lead me. If they want action, I give them action. If they want spiders hatching in their ears, I cultivate brown recluses on their behalf. If they want corpses to replace rain and blanket the city in a violent storm, then so be it.”

I wrote my latest soon-to-be blockbuster, Flesh Made World, in the midst of a psychic and nervous breakdown. I admitted myself into the psych ward on suicide watch the day after I completed the novel. While I was writing it—experiencing suicidal depression, coming to terms with the sudden death of my father, and in the grip of a months’ long anxiety attack—people and creatures kept saying, “Yo, D, why don’t you write a non-linear, hard-to-read novel crammed with surreal and disturbing imagery, and ambiguous as hell?” I said, “All right, all right. If that’s what you want. I’m already on it.” (more…)

The Mortuary Monster by Andrew J. Stone — Book Review

Daulton Dickey.

mm-coverGonzalo lives a strange existence. Like his parents before him, he’s a cemetery man. Stuck in rut, Gonzalo wants something more. Bitter at his lot, he stumbles through life, performing his chores and routines, over and over again.

He lives and works at a funeral parlor. Corpses are his only friend–actual corpses: they walk and talk, stuck between here and the other side.

Gonzalo helps them transition from life to death. He treats them as friends, and sometimes even lovers. But everything changes for him when he father’s a halfbreed–half human, half corpse.

The Mortuary Monster by Andrew J. Stone is a novel filled with charm and imagination. It’s more fable than horror. Imagine if Neil Gaiman and Terry Gilliam wrote Night Breed, then you’ll have an idea of the wit and style of Stone’s debut novel. (more…)

A Very True Review of Very True Stories Starring Jeff O’Brien

Daulton Dickey.

So I’m sitting in my car outside work. Lunch hour drags when it’s hot outside and you forgot your lunch. I debate driving across town to grab a bite, but I’m neither hungry nor motivated enough to expend the effort.

Voices on the radio chatter, something about an ‘incident’ somewhere over the east coast or New England. I focus on the story but the ‘incident’ remains ill-defined.

Can’t be too important, otherwise they’d issue warnings, make declarations, cut to in-progress news conferences of sheriffs or mayors, FEMA or Homeland Security.

At least thirty minutes have passed since I started my lunch break. Christ, I’m bored. I light a cigarette and check my watch. Ten minutes have passed since I started my lunch break. Fuck me. How am I supposed to kill fifty minutes when I’m this bored?

I pull my phone from my pocket and open the Kindle app and flip through the titles inverytruestoriesstarringjeffobrien my library. One stands out: a woman kneels beside a heavyset bald man, who’s standing and thrusting his arm in the air. The title? Very True Stories Starring Jeff O’Brien.

What the fuck is this?

I have no memory of buying this book.

I download the file and read the opening page: a dude looking to get laid takes home a creature disguised as a woman. Tentacles emerge from her pussy and morph into two women.

What in Christ’s name is this? And who the hell is Jeff O’Brien? (more…)

Book Review: Sorry, Wrong Country by Konstantine Paradias

Daulton Dickey.

Konstantine Paradias is a man of many trades. In a country populated by a seemingly impressive amount of eccentrics, he seems to have encountered them almost daily while in the course of struggling to make ends meet. Depicting life in modern Greece, a country with a long and storied history and currently trapped in a bleak economic spiral, Paradias offers snapshots of weirdos, eccentrics, and everyday folk struggling to live and to enjoy life. A work of non-fiction, this book is hard to fit into any sub-categories: it’s neither memoir nor history nor current affairs, and yet it’s all three. It offers no sustained narrative or heavy-handed thesis. Instead, it’s a collection of vignettes offering snapshots of people the author has encountered throughout his life as a jack of all trades.

sorry wrong countryReading this book is like viewing Greece through a kaleidoscope. Cycling through every short chapter is akin to twisting the kaleidoscope, revealing new colors and images. In the process, and if you pay close attention, it shows you new ways to view and to understand every person you encounter. And that’s where this book’s greatness lies: in focusing on people, usually eccentrics or strangers most people would overlook or ignore, Paradias imbues this book with humanity, with a genuine respect, even love, or at least empathy, for everyone he encounters. (more…)

Nine Writers and Performers Who Influenced Bastard Virtues

Daulton Dickey.

In 2003, my cousin died in a car accident. I received the news while loafing around in New Mexico. I had traveled there earlier in the year, and, after a brief stint in Las Vegas, felt lost. But I had left Indiana—hopefully—for good, and I was determined to start a new life somewhere else. Jobless and low on money, I resisted giving in. I resisted going home.

Then news of his death arrived, and it hit me hard. I felt isolated. My determination to stay transformed into a desire to leave, to go back home, to spend time with my friends and family. To fill the hole my cousin had left.

Although he was a year younger than me, we grew up together—and we were close: we made the same mistakes together, tried alcohol and pot together, developed a similar sense of humor, and developed similar tastes in movies and music, in pop culture in general.

Rage filled me when he died, and I felt the urge to write about it. I tried and failed several times before I hit on the opening chapter of Bastard Virtues. My desire to honor my cousin gave way to my anger and rage, which consumed me whenever I thought about his death. Early on, I realized the novel wasn’t about him as much as it was about my anger, my rage, my sadness—emotions transformed into themes which dominated the novel.

On embracing the anger and rage, I decided to pick influences for the novel which reflected my relationship with my cousin. Some of the influences are mine alone, and reflect nothing more than my preoccupations at the time. Other influences, however, represent shared interests between my cousin and me.

Hunter S. Thompson

Thompson’s influence is apparent early on in the novel, the opening section of which was inspired by The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Although Thompson’s story meant nothing to my cousin, it was a starting off point for me. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas connected my cousin and me to Thompson, which is what inspired the setting early in the novel. Thompson’s cynicism and vitriol hit a nerve with us when we were teenagers; it was the language we had already used, and in Thompson we’d found a sort of spiritual guide. (more…)

An Excerpt from Bastard Virtues, a Novel

Daulton Dickey.

Bastard Virtues is now available for pre-order. Click here to pre-order the paperback. Or here to pre-order the Kindle edition.


A thorn bush bloomed in my skull.

Vines sprouted inside my brain.

They spread throughout my body—their thorns, razor-sharp, tore into my muscles and threatened to deglove me—as fragments of light sparkled and devoured me.

Bugs, or, worse, creatures whose existence had eluded us, crawled across my skin and burrowed into my temples. They danced and stretched a rope from temple to temple, and tried to pull them inward, tried to collapse my skull.

I wanted to scream, couldn’t.

I wanted to dig my fingernails into my skull and remove them one by one.

The ropes pulled inward, inward.

I tapped my temple in search of a hole.13516669_258152327885522_3315739699535796428_n


Gummo, inspect my head.

Why hadn’t the words come out?

Why hadn’t I made a sound?

Had my motors skills atrophied?

Where are we?

What the hell is this place?

Why the fuck are we doing this?

Although certain I’d transformed my thoughts into coherent chatter, the expressions from strangers and dealers told me otherwise. Wide or squinted eyes, open mouths or frowns—everyone broadcast a response.

Faces muted confusion or fear. (more…)

Bastard Virtues Now Available for Pre-Order

A Sample Story From My Short Story Collection

From A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories. Out now via Kindle

Click here to buy it.

Click here to learn about how I’m donating proceeds to suicide prevention organizations.

On the Sidewalk, at Night, as Thunder Roared and the Clouds Threatened Rain, She Encountered a Possible Solution
Daulton Dickey.

The man at the counter focused on Alexis as she walked into the store, and as she walked through the store, picking up items and glancing at them, and sometimes seeming to study them, she had this feeling prickling the back of her skull, this feeling like being watched. Hyper agency detection, it’s called. The ability to sense the presence of other people. It was useful to her evolutionary forebears, and it was useful to Alexis as she sensed the man’s eyes penetrate her skull. But she didn’t glance at him to verify whether or not the sensation was a hit or a miss—sometimes people detected agents that weren’t there, a consequence of the evolutionary advantage, and a plausible component to the story of humankind’s invention of the concept of god.

The sense of becoming prey to a man’s eyes didn’t leave her, but she tried to soften it, to forget it, or, at the very least, to diminish its effects while she ambled from aisle to aisle and perused the shelves. And what was she searching for anyway? Why had she stopped at this store, this convenience store, at almost midnight on a Sunday-night-almost-Monday-morning?

Her arms itched, itched, that awful itch-and-sensation-of-not-belonging-in-ones-own-skin that diabetics claimed afflicted them—this sensation they usually noticed before receiving their diagnosis. She clutched them at her chest, her arms, and cupped her forearms, near her elbows. Every once in a while she’d start to scratch her arms, but then she’d catch herself and instead rub her arms, palms against flesh, the way parents do when consoling children.

And she drifted from aisle to aisle, glanced at item after item, as she wrestled with the instinct to scratch her arms. Worlds ballooned and dissolved inside her head. Some people called this daydreaming. Others recognized it as a symptom of various attention deficit-type disorders and wrote or asked for prescriptions for medication. But Alexis called it neither—it was simply a thing she did, something to pass the time, she supposed. It was something like a gimmick or a distraction, a way to silence the noises produced by the meat in her skull, meat intent on firing neurons and transmitting impulses in such as way as to bleed into her conscious state and to make her brain and her mind, and her entire body, feel the way her arms felt, feel like nothing belonged, like everything was attached by bristles and super glue, that nothing was certain or sacred or numinous or … Human. Yes, human.

When she reached the wall on the far side, the wall opposite the entrance, the wall replaced by refrigerators with glass doors, refrigerators lined with bottles of soda and frozen pizzas, chilled coffee and microwaveable lunches, she doubled back and, arms still clutched to her chest, made a beeline for the front door.

Hyper agency detection kicked in again, and she glanced at the man behind the counter as she opened the door: he focused on her, tracked her with his eyes and a slow motion panning head, and he sort of smiled this greasy smile, the type Alexis had encountered when men smiled at her with only one thing in mind.

She didn’t return the man’s smile, or even acknowledge it, as she glided through the door and flung it shut.

Clouds obscured the moon. She smelled moisture in the air but didn’t sense rain. Somewhere something was on fire. A house, maybe. She smelled it, too, and she wondered if it was a house, if maybe someone was inside the house, roasting alive and screaming and crying. A person’s mind shuts down in such a situation, she wagered. When you’re on the verge of death, of a death as awful as one by fire, she was pretty certain, your mind shut down. Instincts took over.

She was pretty certain instincts took over.

Her mind shut down the last time she glimpsed death. She was high and naked and lying on the carpet—she remembered it was wet, or was that a false memory, the wetness?—and she felt numb and floaty, as if her head had detached from her body and rolled into a closet, and she saw the world through the crack in a mostly-closed door. Or better yet: the world shrank as she slipped into a lens with an aperture slowly closing.

Her instincts didn’t take over then. That time, and on previous occasions when she’d glimpsed death, she rocked on her belly and closed her eyes and felt a sort of smile bend her lips—she didn’t remember smiling, she didn’t even remember consciously moving her lips, but she did remembered feeling her lips move; she remembered feeling them curl into a sort of smile as the aperture closed, closed, closed.

Clouds collided and merged and thunder rumbled to the east. Lightning flashed. Alexis floated down the sidewalk and glanced at her reflection in the window of a shuttered pet shop. Her face was droopy and her eyes were empty and dead looking. Fitting, those eyes, that face. Fitting because her external self had converged with her internal self, and, for once, for once, the external and the internal commingled in something like harmony.

Thunder rumbled again and lightning backlit the clouds. But it didn’t rain. It didn’t rain yet. Alexis knew rain would fill the streets soon enough, and she didn’t know where to go. Where would she go? Where would she go to stay warm and dry and itch or scratch free? And where would she go to escape that thing she did, that kind of daydreaming but not daydreaming thing where worlds ballooned and dissolved inside her head?

And where would she go to avoid the Bad Thing? That, for her, was the million dollar question. Her friends had succumbed to the Bad Thing and none had the desire, it seemed, to try to escape it. Not even Kara. Especially not Kara.

The last time Alexis had stayed with Kara, they spent three days locked inside the house, uncompromisingly high, and they wore these kind of old-lady-house-dress-looking pajamas, and the pajamas were dirty and smelled of urine and vomit, but neither Alexis nor Kara really cared about the stench, and they only rarely even noticed it, and then usually only when one plopped down on the bed and the air concussed and blasted the other in the face; and they were so high, so high they barely even spoke, and when they did speak, they spoke in that whispery drawl people speak after succumbing to the Bad Thing. And they stayed high for three days. Three days, and it felt like ten minutes. And then at one point during the three days, near the end, as Alexis recalled, Mario stopped by and promised Kara more of the Bad Stuff if she’d have sex with him, but Kara was so wrecked by the Bad Stuff that she couldn’t even feign excitement and she couldn’t convince Mario she was enjoying it—and she clearly wasn’t, but she tried, it seemed, to express excitement, at least for his sake. But he didn’t buy it, and the act of catching a woman feigning excitement did more to enrage him than probably anything else. Kara could probably have stolen a gram and it wouldn’t have enraged Mario as much as her whole faking an orgasm act had. And even after they had sex, which was the agreement, not an insistence on enjoyment, Mario refused to give Kara—and, by extension, Alexis—anything because she, Kara, was, Mario insisted, so strung out she was “worthless” and “about as useful” w/r/t sex as “a sock filled with sandpaper.”

Kara was so strung out, she didn’t care. She didn’t care that she’d had unprotected sex with a notorious—i.e. possible carrier of STDs—womanizer. She didn’t care that Mario’d had unprotected sex with her and then protested her lack of enthusiasm, she didn’t care that he’d ridiculed her and her best friend and then left without honoring his end of the bargain—she cared only about succumbing to the Bad Thing, and she was so taken by it that nothing else mattered.

If she returned to Kara’s house, Alexis knew she’d once again succumb to the Bad Thing, and she didn’t oh god want to succumb to the Bad Thing again, even though succumbing to it sounded so goddam good that her mouth, her brains, her bones screamed out for it. Please. God. Just one little taste. One. More. Taste. One little … To stop the burning, the sickness, the itching, the …

She clutched her belly and she fought it. She fought it. She wrestled every sensation tearing through her, the sensations practically demanding attention, the sensations threatening an insurrection, threatening to usurp her arms and legs and get the Bad Stuff and taste it one last time—with or without her consent. But then … Then she clutched her stomach again.

She couldn’t taste the Bad Stuff. Never again. Not now. Not …

She wasn’t certain she was pregnant—that is, she hadn’t verified it with a pregnancy test, but she knew. She could tell. Women knew these things. And she knew a baby was growing inside her, of that she was more certain than anything. And she knew she was going to have it, and she knew she wanted to keep it, and she knew keeping it entailed responsibility, the type of which she’d never really exercised before, and she knew the Bad Stuff would either kill the baby or deform it somehow—maybe not physically but definitely mentally—and she knew the Bad Stuff would splinter or destroy whatever neural processes governed the actions people referred to as “maternal instincts.” And so … No. She wouldn’t go to Kara’s. She wouldn’t fall back or rely on anyone she’d known or kind of befriended—though in those circles, you never really “befriended” anyone; friendship itself only remained strong when someone had access to the Bad Stuff. She could not even attempt to rely on Kara or anyone else now that a baby was blooming inside her.

Thunder rumbled again. It jolted her. She jumped, physically jumped, and her heart pounded. She glanced up and registered the sky, the clouds, and mentally inquired about the rain. Why hadn’t it started yet? It was almost certainly going to start. Any minute now. Any …

And that’s when she saw it. On the sidewalk, near the base of a building, an old barbershop: a one hundred dollar bill. It lay flat on the sidewalk. She stopped and stood over it and glanced down at it. Her fingers curled and closed into a fist—acting on their own; a prelude to insurrection? And she fought the impulse to bend over and scoop up the money.

This required consideration. This required tact.

Hyper agency detection kicked in and Alexis stepped forward and dropped her foot onto the hundred dollar bill, and she glanced around—left to right, forward and back—but she didn’t see anyone, no one, not a single person. Not anywhere. And so she stood, frozen, foot stamped on the money, and she considered what she’d discovered. An answer. A possible answer. Maybe she could use it to find a cheap hotel and regroup. Maybe she could use it to eat. Maybe she could use it to … Maybe just a little taste of it, the Bad Stuff. A small portion of the cash could buy enough Bad Stuff to maybe make her sickness go away or make the itching go away or … But no. No. She was desperate and she was tired and she was hungry, and she was also craving the Bad Stuff, and so while the money might be a blessing there was also an almost equal chance that it might be a curse. And so …

And so she’d just take it. She’d scoop it up and slip it into her pocket and find a cheap hotel and maybe—or maybe not, who knew?—call Mario or Kara and …

She lifted her foot and bent over and tried to scoop up the money, but something prevented her for picking it up. Something prevented her from grabbing it and lifting it and slipping it into her pocket.

She fell to her knees and tried to pick it up and then she tried to wedge her thumbnail under the corner to peel it away from the sidewalk and … This money would really help. It could help and … Maybe a hotel for the night. Or food. Or maybe it’d buy a taste, just a little taste of the Bad Stuff. Or maybe … And if only she could wedge her thumbnail under it. If she could only lift the corner, peel it from the sidewalk, she’d undoubtedly then peel the entire thing off and shove it into her pocket and … Maybe just a taste, you know? One little taste and … Just lift the corner. She only needed to lift the corner. But the corner wouldn’t rise. It wouldn’t break free. It …. Probably those assholes, those frat boys assholes … They probably used some adhesive to stick it to the ground. Those assholes pulled pranks like this all the time. They pulled pranks on the poor or homeless and filmed it and put it online so other frat boys assholes could watch it and laugh at the poor or homeless and … It was definitely glued. Definitely stuck there. Definitely affixed to the sidewalk. And … It was undoubtedly those assholes and … If only she could wedge her thumbnail under the corner. If she could only lift the corner … God, she was so fucking tired. A hotel room sounded great. It called to her. And food: she could feel her stomach jump into her throat, ready to devour anything, anything. And then maybe she would call Mario. But just for a taste. One last taste before she … And if only she could wedge her thumbnail under the corner.

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

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)