Posts Tagged ‘Raw Dog Screaming Press’

A Review of “Gardens of Earthly Delight” by George Williams

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Spencer Dew

“You will not,” one story here informs us, “at your boss’s annual summer evening Hawaiian pool party walk up to your associate’s wife and pluck the nursing newborn from her disbelieving arms and dash it on the mossy stones of the Japanese rock garden.” But the idea is there, and that level of violence, explosive, cruel, and horrifying, is veined throughout these otherwise dull tales.

The stories here disturb, but less in any sense that art should; more the way images of pain and suffering appropriates for pornographic purposes do, the way Faces of Death did back in middle school when kids would make out in front of it, or certain Web sites today that show photographs of white phosphorous burns for the titillating “gross out” factor. Williams is poking his finger at something he takes to be profoundly American, a bone half-buried in this blood-soaked soil of ours, but his response to that undercurrent of violence is another layer of violence, reading like a photocopy of a photocopy, numbed to its own force, distanced from the reality it signifies.

In another story, a man with a gun takes a hostage and then blows up a Hooters. They speak, terrorist and victim, in stripped-down dialogue, lacking, as all dialogue here does, punctuation marks. This can be confusing, as a tactic, though in its implications of purity it, too, is almost violent, an over-worked minimalism, clenched, like the fists of a man who will soon flare up in magnesium, eradicating his physical form due to some unspoken anger. Men draw guns and fire, randomly, in anger or something like a toothless joy. Not that there aren’t also career criminals here, and agents of various sorts, and myriad occultists. And some of the violence, for all its wild lashing, does have a motivation: there are hate crimes against Muslims, a protagonist obsessed with dealing revenge for the imposition of sounds into his world. Yet under both the clear, caused rage and the inchoate, frothing anger, there is a sense, from Williams, that violence has a deeper, religious root.

Religions recur here, as well, from caricatures of Scientology to those wounded Muslims, the blood of the lamb that washes over revivalists in the pine woods, the blood rites of various imagined initiatory communities, the secrets of and related slanders associated with the Masons or the Templars or Hubbard’s own sect. Even the ghost of a young girl blames something like religion: “My father made us believe he was god. We believed him. That’s why we killed ourselves. God said it was time.” More than one story involves the idea of a coming anti-Christ, a new nativity, the incarnation of evil itself. One couple wants to revamp “the Cult of the Sacred Whore.” “In three years their web site had 786 million hits, five percent paying. Their latest adventure: traveling through Spain. The goal: to get pregnant. The phases of the moon, temperatures, graphs of peak ovulation.” There is a riot in the wake of Easter. Skulls are smashed. This sacrality of violence, not merely the notion of violence as something ancient and incubating but its unleashing as somehow transcendent, even a good in itself: this echoes through the museum hallways lined with weapons, the Quixotic old man who unsheathes a sword, even the excessively effusive epistolary responses, spinning out fantastically, to singles ads, which culminates in a sinister new paganism: “In my garage I am building a gift for you, a sacrifice.”

While one narrator, struggling to contain himself, repeats to his own disbelief the claim that America “is not a rabid behemoth of greed idiotized by advertising and stupefied by cathode rays and narcotized by Twinkies. America is not a land-fill,” this sense predominates, and some of the return to a sacred violence is out of a sense of needing to purify a polluted land. Blast the Muslims away with sonic weapons, for instance; plow through the Virginian suburbs with a tank. But Williams treats the employ of this violence like he treats the lack of question marks, a literary tactic only, rather than taking such things, even when only on the page, seriously as already a reality, a real force. Consider: “You motherfucker, the woman said to Leland. You killed my boyfriend. I’m like God now and like God I’m like God now like God I’m like God now goddamn you killed my boyfriend you goddamned son of bitch.” The quote is accurate, and here maybe Williams is capturing something of the shock, the physiological force of violence not on the body but on the nervous system, on perception and speech, but the story is too slick, transient, for this statement to have much force or give the reader much pause.

Imagining the events described here, away from the book, is much more viscerally affecting than reading the prose. The congregants outside the mosque buckle and drop, and in my mind, this matters, this hurts, whereas in these pages there is an immediate moving on, an insulation in the prose, a retreat from engagement with the power of the violence that gets thrown around here as reference but without respect for its weight. In one scene, a woman climbs out from under a table to examine the consequences of a Tarantino-like shootout scene: “The room filled with the keen odor of cordite and blood. Eight bodies.” It is oddly bloodless, this writing, for all the blood shed within its narratives. And this distance—like that “you will not” that conditionally adjusts the opening quote to this review—heightens the disturbing reality of violence even as the violence here is inserted, imagined, and shuffled around as a plot device.

Official Raw Dog Screaming Press Web Site

A Review of “Airplane Novel” by Paul A. Toth

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Toth has been described as a “notable force in contemporary fiction” and a “literary wizard.” Other reviews of the novel say that it’s a “wonderful cubist and surreal tale of truth through fiction.”

What is it, anyway?

THE 9/11 novel, apparently.

I wasn’t aware that there were others. The idea of there being others is slightly distasteful to me. Yes, there are novels about other dreadful happenings. The Holocaust, for example. The good books about it were only written decades later, when the writers had escaped a devastated Europe for a cleaner America. Or they’ve been starting to appear now,  when everyone who could remember what living in Berlin (for example) in 1941 was like.

Is Airplane Novel too soon?

Oddly, no. 9/11 was a strangely 21st century atrocity. Everyone feels they were there; it’s over familiar; it’s imprinted on our minds like movie reels when we close our eyes. It was bombarded at us from TV screens everywhere across the globe for months. Years later there are tales of dust settling, lungs clogging—memories of where we were, who we were with, the people we were at that time and place. The weather of that day is forever cordoned off in the mind.

In this respect, Airplane Novel is almost about something that didn’t happen.

To clarify:

The event has been so twisted and ballooned out of proportion, and blasted in our faces for so long, that a certain sense of desensitisation has crept in.


Correct me if I’m wrong, and I do of course mean no offence. I write from a country far away from America, from a viewpoint removed. When all you know of something is what you see on television, after a while it becomes almost like a story you’re watching on-stage, acted out by real people, yes, while remaining fundamentally unreal.

Reading Airplane Novel as a European, I read it without the visceral emotional investment that I know some of my American friends would have done. I read it, really, as a piece of fiction. A life and death of a building, the South Tower of the World Trade Centre.

As a literary work, the piece is tiresomely self-reflexive. I know that post-modernism is avant-garde in some other decade, but I do hope that we’re moving along a little now.

I got Toth’s point, though:

9/11, as broadcast on every station in the world, was a narrative, and as a narrative of this narrative, it’s therefore apparently imperative that we’re reminded it’s a narrative. The table of contents, for example, being the first thing we meet, is laid out in the arc of a novel’s perfect action: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement.

Airplane Novel is not unlike a Quentin Tarantino film: brilliant beginning and end…and the most boring tosh in the middle that you’ve ever had to chew through. By this I mean pages upon pages of pointless extrapolation that reads as if it’s been put there to fill up time, as though Toth was being paid by the word.

As for the plot itself:

We are provided with an autobiography of sorts of the tower, and then sympathetic characters so that we can connect with the story, and finally, of course, the day itself.

My favourite character was George, the chronic masturbator, and his ex-wife Muriel, with her telescope. The characters are very vivid, moving through the mind’s eye as though they’d spontaneously come into being there. Not very many writers achieve such fluidity without reams of Dickensian description.

In summary:

Eminently quotable—the man can certainly write a damn good sentence—and with endearing, terribly ‘real’ characters, Airplane Novel, nevertheless, feels wishy-washy. The bombing, when it finally does come, is anti-climactic, but perhaps that was Toth’s point all along. Violence means nothing to us anymore.

Official Paul A. Toth Web Site
Official  Raw Dog Screaming Press Web Site