Book review – A Million Versions of Right by Matthew Revert

Posted on September 26, 2010 by

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“The scene I walk away from resembles a cardboard cut-out of reality; faces frozen in rehearsed emotion. Everywhere around me there is overwhelming heat and suffocation. I make my way to the bathroom. The mirror reveals several coagulated wounds mapped across my face. Beyond those, I search for that spark which makes me who I am. There is no spark to be found. I am officially empty.”

Who are you today? 

Who are you tomorrow?

How do you interact with your day?

Does it exist  beyond the mind numbing to do list?

What if your world were different, would it change you?

In A Million Versions of Right, first time author Matthew Revert challenges the reader to a series of worlds completely different and exactly the same as our own.

A young man with small construction workers in his ejaculate is nervous about his blossoming sexuality and approaches his father for advice in a Freudian tale of youthful apprehension. A scientist wants to cure women of menstruating and accidentally passes the ‘disease’ on to men, who accept their fate along with the side-effect of loss of personal power. A man laments the dull pointless hours spent at his job (screaming at walls to see how much of the scream they absorb) and finds to his horror he is very good at it. Some school children experiment with ideas a teacher has passed on to them, proving that too much knowledge is danger, while the other students simply think the lesson on the ugliness of the scrotum is another dull day at school.

Absurdist humour involves placing ‘ordinary’ human beings into extraordinary situations to see how they ‘react’. This form of literature, steeped in nihilistic and existential philosophy and Dada and surrealism in art, has found a place in our modern bookshelves next to post modernism, and post post modernism. Great absurdist writers include Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Harold Pinter and more recently Paul Auster and Patrick Susskind. In Reverts’ book there is an introductory quote to Joyce, and you feel his influence as you travel through the work.

The first thing to say about Absurdist fiction is it is not an easy read, and this book by Matthew Revert is no exception. It’s intentionally confronting and the nature of Reverts’ prose acts as a giggly assault – particularly in the order chosen to give us the stories. The first two stories are our training ground and the reader has to show some trust in the author, that they know where they are going and that we are on a journey that is worth taking.

However, the author captured me entirely at story number three and I felt deeply rewarded from then on. All absurdist fiction is difficult, and like some of it, this series is well worth the trust. The author knows what he is doing, and has an excellent grasp of an extremely difficult genre to write in.

It is worth mentioning that these are stories that take a male-centric view of the ridiculous. Be prepared for scatological humour, a great deal of swearing and certain social niceties to be obliterated. The second stories obsession with testicles is weighty and can get tedious, in the way De Sade can seem repetitive. But then, isn’t a man’s obsession with his ‘junk’ precisely that? What saves this narrative from falling into ‘blokiness’ is the way Revert pokes fun at obsession. Testicles, penises, ejaculate, shit and other masculine obsession simply exist while the stories interaction with these ‘themes’ pokes delightful fun at any  fixation  over the subject matter. Repetition is a tool often used in this form of literature and The Bricolage Scrotum uses this device to such great effect we are forced into a moment, internally screaming “ENOUGH! Why are we so obsessed with male genitalia?”

Other usually complicated subjects are treated with playful ease by Revert. In Meeting Max homophobia is something that humanity understands without condoning. A willing female surrogate is offered so the protagonist never has to face the physical manifestation of his deep attraction for her father. This warm and generous alternative to the stereotyped ‘male bonding sessions’ over strippers or other hapless women poses a mighty challenge to homophobia in its gentle unassuming acceptance, while honouring deep bonds that can form between men.

Do not imagine, however, that this series of short stories tripping through a stream of politesse. A Million Versions of Right is anything but politically correct.

Women are dealt with in A million versions of right in an interesting manner. This is an author comfortable with all aspects of his psyche and one can sense the presence of a female voice inside the writer. There is a brave attempt to describe the miseries associated with menstruation and a very delicious moment for female readers when men start experiencing the symptoms and (interestingly) associated social consequences of the monthly cycle.

My favourite story (The great headphone wank) involves a couple addicted to the sexual noises emanating from a set of headphones purchased by her for him to help him sleep while listing to music, providing her with her much-needed silence.  This is a brilliant study in nihilism and even addiction of sorts and the lovers have to come to grips with events that have taken them over, somehow never letting go of their dominating ennui in the process. I can honestly say I loved this story. It reminded me of Martin Amis’ Let me count the Times, one of my all time favourite short stories. High praise in my world.

The devoted reader (who by this stage simply can’t put the book down) is rewarded with the story at the end. This is a whimsical study of the art of reading in itself, and without giving any of it away, I will simply state the final line packs a punch a mile wide. Read it and grin.

There is a great deal more to say about this wonderful collection of short stories, but then that is the privilege of absurdist writing – interpretations and immersion. In my opinion Matthew Revert is a fine writer, with an excellent debut here and the promise of a big future. I am fortunate enough to have my copy signed. All I can say is get a signed copy soon – while you still can.

Lisa

A Million Versions of Right by Matthew Revert is published by LegumeMan Books and can be purchased here.

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