Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008) and the forthcoming critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2010). An instructor at Loyola University, Chicago, Dew also reviews books for Rain Taxi Review of Books and art for Newcity Chicago. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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In an early page of Sui Generis, a man wakes up with a large fish in his ear. This, it turns out, is a bit worse than waking metamorphosed into a bug, for as much as Marc Lowe’s e-book riffs on Kafka, there is a depth of visceral horror—a wallowing in scatology, a plegmy sensibility of erotic revulsion—that the work of the former insurance man from Prague lacks. Consider the situation of the narrator who finds himself thus entangled with a female acquaintance: “She holds a revolver in one hand, dexterously uses the other to push my shattered head deep between the warm, moist folds of her darkly pulsating vagina like a piece of rotten fruit.” You’ll want rubber gloves—and possibly a bib—for many of the situations Lowe dishes out, ranging from detailed engagement with the banal (his descriptions of skilleted eggs bubbling from raw to gelatinous will turn you off breakfast for the week; his portrayal of toilets spewing back as someone spews into them will force you to reconsider puking) to hyperboles of excessive disgust:
On this page there is an illustration of the woman (or what’s left of her) torn to pieces, her uterus stretched across the floor like a slingshot; a trail of excrement leads to the two doctors, who are covered in a mixture of fluid and entrails which they apparently hacked through with their large knives and crosses when they made their treacherous escape from the wench’s fetid womb; they are both standing atop the giant rat-child, from whose underside (it is now revealed) hangs a large sack of testicles....
Compared to this, the prototype remote-control lawnmowers that turn predatory, reducing suburbanites to showers of blood and bone fragments, are a relief, light comedy. But for all the repulsiveness and ultra-violence of the above image, Lowe’s experiments are less like the “Art” work of one of his narrators (“a shit and urine smeared canvas with the words Fuck the World carved into it with a stick”) and more, in keeping with Kafka, the overflowing of nightmares.
Lowe’s narratives follow dream logic, and the book conveys an overarching (and at times overpowering) feeling of confusion, of lack of control and loss of comprehension. Gunshots echo through a school building, narrators relay nonsensical confessions or are arrested and scheduled for execution without any knowledge of having committed a crime. Characters are chased, repeatedly, and the reader is likewise chased by repetition itself, trapped in relentless loops of writing. Yet more than anything, the people of these stories are subjected to the sense that their heads are full of “a jumble of concepts and images that somehow don’t seem to belong to [them] anymore.” Alienation from reality is the pinnacle of horror here, and even the adolescent artists, quoting Baudrillard or affixing mathematical footnotes in their stories, are ultimately trapped in scenes and thoughts they simply cannot understand.
Fragments of noir rustle in and out, but mainly these add only a new sense of threat, another potential for double-cross. In its claustrophobia, Sui Generis can simply get to be too much; the uniqueness here is all of the same, and while the reader cannot know if it will be a child with a straight razor or a prosthetic baby on the next page, it is always something along those lines, and one can feel a bit bludgeoned after too many of these short tales. Regrettably, the stories here can end up feeling just like recitations of dreams—that unique, that idiosyncratic—rather than, as in the case of Kafka, expertly crafted parables or surreal visions of our too-real world.
When an insect, for instance, enters a narrator’s anus and is, with a few coughs, eventually ejaculated out of his penis and onto a television screen, there seems to be no larger lesson or bearing on the world. Characters here are hauled off to be hanged just because, for the same reason they flip through books with blank pages where the tables of contents should be. In the end, there is something a bit easy and unsatisfying about this, regardless of—or, as in the case of images like that of the sexually mutilated woman above, exacerbated by—the level of visceral disturbance Lowe can generate with his prose. After enough pages of Sui Generis, there’s the unfortunate chance that a reader may react as one character does to a particularly notorious Zen koan, raging “that the question is intrinsically unanswerable, inane, pointless, dumb.”
Official Marc Lowe Web Site
Official ISMs Press Web Site