Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review: Naked Metamorphosis, by Eric Mays


In the course of working on promoting De Bello Lemures, I've inevitably come across other authors promoting their own works. [If I may be permitted to refer to myself as an author for a moment.] Recently this allowed me the opportunity to review a new title in the New Bizarro Author series at Eraserhead Press: Naked Metamorphosis, by Eric Mays.

For those of you not familiar with Bizarro, Wikipedia defines it as "a contemporary literary genre noted for its 'high weirdness'." I think that would be an understatement: it's not really merely contemporary, I would consider it extremely progressive and forward-looking. It's a genre that seeks to use the absurd to entertain - by mixing images and influences in a Grand Guignol of modern hyperreality. It's the reductio ad absurdum [literally] of the concept of the mash-up. Since I am nothing if not all about the mash-up, I am giving some Bizarro titles a shot.

Here's the Amazon description for Naked Metamorphosis:

Kafka's Shakespearean Tragedy!

All the world's a stage...and Franz Kafka wants to direct! The absurdist has got his hot little hands on the Bard's greatest work - Hamlet. Unfortunately, William S. Burroughs wants to direct too! Perhaps, George W. Bush wants a piece of the action as well.

One thing these literary creators haven't taken into consideration, though, are the characters. Horatio, Hamlet's college roommate, has reached the end of his rope trying to determine whether the piece is a tragedy or a comedy. Hamlet has dropped into a world of hallucinogens and drugs, and thinks he may be turning into a cockroach. And after the declaration of a ghost in Elsinore , Claudius has declared a "War on Terrors"!

What's it all about? And why is Puck around? These questions, and many more, will be answered in a bawdy, bizarro tale of Shakespearean proportions - complete with mistaken identity, ghosts, and true love lost.

Bizarro titles are supposed to barrel the reader over with sheer narrative momentum, inventive dialogue, and inspired weirdness. NAKED METAMORPHOSIS certainly succeeds at all of these.

It's not all just strangeness and transgression, however. There is a clever literary structure hidden under the Burroughs-esque imagery here. Part of that comes from using "Hamlet" as an inspiration, of course, but most of it is the author's own doing. It's sort of a revelation to get to the end and discover that there was a literary plan there all along, wearing a surreal disguise - it's like attending a building demolition and then waking up at the end to discover you're at a Kabuki play.

I was interested to see how the author would combine "Hamlet" and "Metamorphosis", since the former work gives us tragedy as the result of character and the outcome of the choice to either act or not act, and the latter work gives us tragedy as something that happens upon us regardless of our character and regardless of our decisions. I think - though I'm not sure - that the author thinks it's both at once. And shows that to us using a bawdy, funny, ridiculous comedy - while off-handedly having his narrator invent existentialism along the way, while dealing with some annoying actors.

A definite recommend. You can add a star if you're "into" the critical history of the original material, since a number of history's ephemeral "interpretations" of various Shakespearian characters make absurd appearances here or are reimagined in comical ways.


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