Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This collection of absurdist vignettes follows in the footsteps of James Thurber, Bohumil Hrabal, and Donald Barthelme in offering social commentary on the modern human condition while riding the line between allegory and surrealism.
My life appeared strange because it was one way and not another. Only if it had been every possibility at once would it have not appeared strange. And that is what I am now: every possibility at once. And nothing is strange.
[from “Everything Was Strange”]
Not unlike a well-constructed poetry collection, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Themes surface and submerge only to re-emerge a few vignettes later. The prose is simple and exacting ensuring clarity of the absurd, Dali-esque situations presented.
On the subject of Romantic Relationships, two tales manage to paint the intangible. In “The Warehouse,” Daphne and Sylvester strive to properly show their love to the world, yet achieve unappreciated, sub-par results with attempts at public lovemaking. A map leads them to a box in a warehouse bearing their names:
They reach inside the box, then lift out its contents and sit it on the bed between them. They grin and laugh and hug and kiss.
Between them, on the bed, is their love. It is beautiful, colourful, soft in places, hard in others, glowing, pulsating, tentacles waving, petals and wings opening. They touch it, feeling its cavities and protrusions. A perfume emanates from it, both strange and intoxicating. It makes a sound like music.
“The End of Sex” shows a more humorous, erotic take on soulmates:
Three hours later, Brian and Bryony were naked and approaching orgasm. They climaxed simultaneously, then parted and lay next to one another.
“That was incredible,” said Brian.
“It certainly was, said Bryony.
“I can still feel myself inside of you,” said Bryan.
“I can still feel you inside of me,” said Bryony.
Brian and Bryony looked down at their groins. Brian’s penis was missing and Bryony’s vagina was plugged up . . . Brian’s penis remained embedded in Bryony’s vagina for the rest of their lives, which they both went on to live in total satisfaction.
Many times, the protagonists are not interacting with soulmates, but rather complementary pairs or mirror images of themselves. One such pairing, in “Extraordinary Elsie,” has Elsie on stage staring out over an audience expectantly while the audience returns the favor in kind. In “The Meeting,” a dayshift drone always drifting from his red house to his red workplace stops to confront the nightshift drone he passes twice everyday as she drifts from her blue workplace to her blue house. Both pairing are more elaborate than this summary, but the strength of employing absurd scenarios becomes clear.
Stan of “Stan and Stan” is so hypocritically hellbent on conformity, except when he is confronted, that he makes a clone only to find clone-Stan unbearable. “Mask Man” takes the mirror image the furthest layering masks over masks. Tom hides his chronic pain behind a smile–a virtual mask. For a costume party, he constructs a red-faced pain mask to plausibly deny and yet express his inner pain. A mummy-shrouded host, reveals that under his wraps he looks exactly like Tom’s representation of his inner pain. . .
The penultimate vignette, “The Shining Flower,” takes a moment to present the reader with a beautiful meta-moment no less absurd than anything preceding it:
Look inside yourself now and see a flower. Not a shining flower, just an ordinary flower of a recognizable species. See it now in your mind. What species is it? What colour is it?
Why do you see the flower that you see and not another?
Now there is a whole garden of different flowers inside the readers of this story, all separated from one another by time and space.
Anyway, here’s a story . . .
I received my copy of the collection directly from Strange Books through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
[Check out my other reviews here.]
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