Bernard may or may not exist. He’s the victim of a series of cruel experiments conducted on him by his father and a scientist who are trying to cure an ‘illness’ (in an age when all that exists is illness) that inflicts those called ‘Suburbanites’ that has rendered them all revolting, flesh-eating monsters. (It’s hard to miss the inference isn’t it? A nice tie in with this theme is one of giant shopping malls depicted as the ultimate in terror and violence.)
Garrett Cook may or may not exist. He is god in a world where narrative and plot are the building blocks of cultish religion, and characters have to influence a writer’s block ravaged author who subconsciously knows he does not deserve the power he has over his novel.
Clyde definitely does exist. He is desperate to establish himself as worthy of more than a by-line, as essential to the plot as his over empathic vacant brother who he enviously recognises as the novel’s protagonist. Where Bernard is a Jesus like character sent to save us all by making his way deliberately to Archelon Ranch no matter how many valley’s of death he has to traverse, Clyde is his shadow. A well-meaning Satan determined to place himself as the center of narrative, even if it means killing his father and exploiting the church to get there.
This is a classic post modern tale with a futuristic twist. We are told several times what the novel is not – the author dreads a ‘Nineteen Eight-four’ or ‘Brave new world’ response to the novel – but not at all what the novel is. It’s perpetual reference to the author (a very post mod technique) even to the point where the author is placed in the position of god (interestingly a god the characters think they can influence, even if they can’t) never seeps into self-indulgence, instead keeping us fascinated with this Garrett Cook, a writer clearly at odds with himself.
This is an ambitious feat for any writer, particularly one in his early days, but I have to say it is very well executed here. The overriding feeling is one of an author dispossessed, almost as if he is watching his characters fascinated as they reveal his own work to him.
Bernard is steeped in a transcendent-style fate known as ‘Deep Objectivity’ – a talent all good writers must possess. However, this objectivity is so pervasive it has placed Bernard in a position where he feels empathy with objects as well as humans experiencing the human condition. He will lament the miseries of simply being a hat, while feeling the heavy-handed lash of a man paying to have a prostitute whip him. Each of these experiences get chosen for Bernard by the ‘Deep Objectivity’ itself, which may or may not be Garrett Cook.
Cook knows that the misery experienced by his characters goes both ways, and sometimes his characters know enough to blame him and sometimes they don’t. Some want to take control (if not responsibility) for their own future, while others are merely the peaceful victim of the experiences it throws their way.
Each character has their own journey, which moves the plot forward in an interesting suspenseful way. Far more exciting however, are the intense philosophical questions raised and the cool examination of the human condition.
Running through the novel is the existential question of what it means to be human. Terror and traumatic death are common occurences, animals have become drug addicts, objects have taken on life. In this strange world, we are not exactly sure why all these mutations exist (toxic poisoning appears to be the explanation) but we do know that there is a little bit of humanity exhibited by every creature (even the dinosaurs that play both predator and police) while Bernard seems to be the only human capable of any sort of transcendence. ‘Deep Objectivity’ is a thing that needs to be felt, but resisted also. Too much empathy will cause death of what it is to be human. None renders the animal devoid of any ‘humanity’. (All of this is of course, the writers fate)
I really enjoyed this book. It ‘wowed’ me. I haven’t read any of the authors other work, but I will now. This work was recommended to me by someone I greatly admire, and if I have any influence over the readers of this blog, I strongly encourage you to give this novel a go. It is a short read (just 111 pages) though it is not a novel that will make everything easy for you, but your work will be well rewarded. It is worth getting into and ultimately, Garrett Cook is a writer worth watching.
You can buy your copy of Archelon Ranch through the excellent LegumeMan Press website here.