Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), 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). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
To send your new book to decomP for possible review, see our guidelines. To find out what’s currently under consideration, visit our review queue.
Late adolescent anarchy, not just as a state of existence but as an actual philosophy, intricately over-thought in endless, solipsistic bull sessions, intertwined therein with hazy speculations about God, Christ—this is the subject and style of Taylor’s novel, a book at once lushly produced by a major publishing house and so boring as to be unreadable. Indeed, if it weren’t for the responsibility of this review, I would never have finished the thing, which traces, more or less, some kids, interchangeable, along a sort of narrative, dipping in and out of the first person, the third person (anarchy, get it?) culling from other sources (all from, you know, anarchist works, “anticopyright and published anonymously,” leaving the author “encouraged to plagiarize and pirate as I saw fit”) about Gainesville and a place called Fishgut (it’s possible to make a biblical reference at once limp and heavy handed, as this one is, to the book of Jonah, which is infinitely more intelligently written and more pleasurable to read) and a kind of prophet (Do I have to use the word “Anarchristianity”? Just think equal parts surface-skimmed Kierkegaard and Hakim Bey) who writes a book, which gets (anarchy again!) added to, glossed, expanded, and then, well, read, received, “edited” even, and, yes, even included, across several pages the effect of reading of which was, to me at least, something like dental surgery without the catharsis or any hint of blood.
“We might be trapped in this fucked, fallen world,” someone interchangeable says to someone else, or to him or herself, or to us, the readers, just so we can feel preached at, “but that is not the same as being of it.” There is some mystical tingle, something like a sense of eternal return, in just how clichéd this story is. Perhaps this is part of Taylor’s goal, to tell us something we’ve all heard and read in countless iterations before, semi-stoned ramblings about the cosmic Christ,
a blazing chalk outline mapped over a galaxy, ours, complete with connect-the-dots constellations.... Her Christ is not crucified, but the resurrected Son of Man. He who lived and Lives and, Living, delivers life and life everlasting, in the form of those glimpses of the eternal that rupture our individuality, our confinement in time. He is the archetype in triumph, a man-shaped hole in existence, the eye of the needle of the world.
Beyond all other failings, this book is boring, as boring as those sentences, as pages and pages of sentences like that. “The world was within us, every person a planet and the house the solar system, and the city—I don’t know, not the universe exactly; maybe Gainesville was the sun.” It’s like reading chronicles of someone else’s drug trip, like hearing someone describe their naval. The reader gets locked out, both by content and form, this shifting of perspectives, the tattering of narrative.
Thomas finds the notebook just where he thought he would: face out, propped up by earmarked-to-shit copies of Future Primitive and the Summa Theologica.... What a fucking joke this whole thing is. What he should do is take the notebook outside right now and burn the son of a bitch, nip this thing in the bud.
But Thomas has other, bigger plans. He opens the kitchen’s random-shit drawer and fishes out a blue Bic pen. Weird how those are the two main things the company makes—lighters and pens. What’s that about, anyway? Okay, Thomas, time to focus. He figures it’s not worth it to try to imitate Parker’s handwriting. He’s better off just trying to do a quick, nonspecific scrawl and hope that it blends.
The anarchists start revering one of their own (the guy who kept the notebook) as a holy man, a kind of joke, but then the joke congeals, gets serious, and anarchists start getting matching tattoos, quoting their new sacred scripture. It might be disturbing if there were ever any sense of anything being at stake. “When Christ spoke of the fulfillment of the Law, he spoke of the obliteration of the Law, because perfection means Stasis, which is Death.” OK, what of it?
The book starts promisingly enough, reflecting on the allure and ethics of early Internet-era porn, jpeg via Usenet groups, and the ethics and tediousness of work at a call center, invading the lives of invisible others by reading lines from a screen, your performance monitored. The panopticon of capitalism and the devouring eye of pornography—something could have happened here, but, no, this character wanders off and finds some anarchists, has some sex, spurts and swallows some lukewarm philosophy, like how “salvation is lived moment to moment, and grace is a precarious precipice, from which even the righteous may fall at any moment, and fall further yet for the height at which they once stood.” I can’t speak to salvation in the broader sense, but you can at least save $13.99 by not buying this achingly boring little book.
Official Justin Taylor Web Site
Official Harper Perennial Web Site