Review: Avoiding Mortimer by J. W. Wargo

June 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I finished J. W. Wargo’s delightful debut Avoiding Mortimer a few days ago, but I’ve been avoiding writing this review. I could have sat down immediately after finishing it, in one sitting, but I wasn’t sure I’d be impartial, having just traversed Wargo’s world, and maybe I’d be projecting. The next day, I almost wrote it, but then I worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find the words, and then I’d get mad at myself, and maybe even become suicidal or something, because I’d feel like a failure as a reviewer. So I decided to continue avoiding the task before me, and yet, Avoiding Mortimer stayed bouncing around in my brain. Relentlessly. I realized: I was doing the same thing Mortimer tried to do. I was avoiding life. So I sat down and let my experience pour out here on the page, and do I feel better? You bet. You will too when you crack the spine and dive into the pages of Avoiding Mortimer.

Poor Mortimer. Growing up in a household where his entire family was terrified of everything (until they decide to go undead to try to avoid death, at least) obviously had quite an impact on him. As an “adult,” he tries his best to avoid everything: doing things, feeling things, talking to people, being outside, living, dying. What’s that? You can’t avoid dying? Mortimer does. Sort of. And this kind of avoidance of everything not only provides wonderful comical and philosophical fodder for Wargo to explore, but also makes for a perfect bizarro premise due to its impossibility. How can one avoid everything when everything is something, even nothing?

I admit, I have a certain fondness for afterlife comedy, especially when its weird. Avoiding Mortimer joins such stories as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens and Gina Ranalli’s Suicide Girls in the Afterlife on the list of unique and fascinating treatments of what happens to us after we die. Being a bizarro book, of course there are strange flourishes here and there. Supporting characters such as a sentient wig made of dreadlocks and a soul-sucking blob of half-digested ants add to the chaos while giving Mortimer other beings to interact with – despite his avoidance issues. Even God makes an appearance, although he’s certainly not what you might expect. Or maybe he is, if like myself, you’re a fan of existentialist and absurdist lit. The combination of these elements is where Avoiding Mortimer truly thrives. Wargo has a talent for layering strange, wild and funny storytelling over top of a psychologically exploratory and philosophically deep treatise on how he sees the universe. Those readers who follow his blogs and online writing will be familiar with Wargo’s fascination with the id, the ego and the super-ego, all of which are utilized to their utmost both as concepts and as quasi-characters. All of these elements together are entertaining and incredibly explosive. Don’t avoid picking this one up, as its a rare combination of thoughtful and silly that will appeal to any and all fans of weird fiction.

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Cultural Engagement and the Bizarro Movement

June 1, 2013 at 9:08 pm (Uncategorized)

I’d forgotten about this! Something I wrote for Bizarro Central a couple years back, now shared here on the home blog.

Bizarro Central

by Michael A Rose

I remember the first time I held a person in contempt.

It was a friend of mine, actually. We’d grown up together as neighbors, played in the dirt, graduated to video games and bike rides, and had remained friends until our adolescence began to reveal our differences. I was turning into someone who listened to music, read books, found weird events enticing and was constantly craving new things. He was turning into someone who would grow up to come home, turn on the TV, and not really care what channel it landed on. More importantly, he would think whatever was on was original and fresh enough, even though he would never use that word to describe it.

This upset me. I wasn’t trying to be pretentious, or dictate that he be interested in my music, my authors, my art; it wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in…

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Review: Kitten by Gary Arthur Brown

June 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

Kitten is a book about a kitten who is not a kitten. It’s also a book about a kitten who is a kitten. Both of those are Willoughby. Well, sort of. There’s also a woman dressed as a kitten, but she’s a whore, so let’s not worry about her right now. The point is, in this story that is not just one story, but a bunch of stories wrapped up in something that looks like one story, Gary Arthur Brown will play with your mind and sensibilities until you lose track of what reality dictates and throw yourself head first into his surreal meta-narrative. Trust me, you will enjoy the ride.

Brown deftly avoids the danger so common in this kind of book: confusion, by allowing the branching story to separate and naturally come back together. The two overarching main components of the story seem far removed, but slowly, inevitably, Brown brings the twisting, turning branches together and wraps everything up nicely in the end, revealing in a sparse few paragraphs how everything unites. Sure, you’ll still be asked to bring your own logic (or refuse it at the door) but the structure is there, and Brown invites readers of the weird to follow the map he’s provided to find it. Readers interested in alternate realities and pan-dimensional weirdness will definitely love it, but even those who aren’t will find the metaphysics understated enough to never bog down the story.

The characters are fun and well rounded, especially considering the short length of the book (as it’s part of the New Bizarro Author Series, there is a general limit on the length of the story). Brown is able to provide quite a variety, from Tamanney the fish-handed quasi-Scottish pirate fellow to the motherly Amaand. Amaand is particularly interesting, for even though we follow the “kitten” and the boy who owns him (Trevor) throughout the book, Amaand is arguably the protagonist. She certainly undergoes changes in her arc, and the action definitely revolves around her decisions. So is she the main character? Or just another mirror in the hall that Brown has created for his readers?

As strange as the book is (a hallmark of Bizarro – readers would expect no less) it follows an internal logic. Things happen for reasons, cause and effect exists, and things never become so off-the-rails that it feels like Brown has lost track of his narrative. This is a solid, fun and strange debut from an exciting young writer that should not be missed, especially by fans of the absurd and surreal.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Kitten-G-Arthur-Brown/dp/1621050653/ref=la_B00ADV5PV0_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370141612&sr=1-1

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