Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“As the pizzles boiled, Daisey and Wencel sat on the sandy sofa, crowded onto the middle cushion. The other two were lying on the floor, rat-gnawed, their springs popping through the upholstery.
“Wencel stretched out his long legs and put his hands in his pockets.... His left hand drew out seven emoticon-marked teeth.”
“It’s a game I invented with my father’s teeth,” he explains, a casting of lots, a game of language rendered physical. The first round results are less than cheery:
And D :<
Sadness, sobbing, and horror.
But a game is a game, and distraction during a hungry wait is a sort of silver lining on even the most dystopian wasteland.
But while Ohle gives us a world—explored, as well, in several other novels—scarred by some past catastrophe, characterized by need for food and various sorts of daily threats (poodles that bite the fingers off of folks, devouring them, or, given more time and access, gnaw off the scrotums of the infirmed; a school where beatings are delivered depending on a boy’s ability to grow facial hair) this world is hardly what one could call ruined.
Sure, the food is questionable. But folks get by on krab or trotters, with the occasional sea slug steak or licorice drop. History has gone a bit hazy. But Pop History and Emoticonics are the subjects emphasized at school, with students poring over “the few texts that remain.” (“Come on, boys,” a teacher urges, “Emo was the language of our ancestors.”)
Wencel, our hero, cares for his father: pulling out the man’s teeth to stop the grinding, then dabbing on a vinegar treatment and, once that is dry, a coat of shellac. He asks him about the Blast: “Was it really a blast, an explosion, or what?” His father doesn’t remember, of course. After his arrest, he came back changed.
But, oddly—and in this book a kid glues hair to his face to escape a beating and, as noted, plays a game of his own invention, while waiting for his pizzle dinner to boil, with teeth he pulled from his father’s mouth, so, seriously, “odd” is cranked up to eleven—this isn’t a novel about systems of brutality hyperbolized by future catastrophe, nor about disparity of resources highlighted by the post-apocalyptic milieu. There’s a kid and his mom, mostly, and people getting by, finding small pleasures and satisfactions. Brutality abounds, as background noise, but here by the beach there are johnny cakes frying. Nothing’s ruined so long as folks can sit together and share a cup of gadafi, or, better, some bitter weed wine.
:’ ) is the emoticon for that.
“‘It will end well,’ Wencel said.”
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