Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Grey Area" Everywhere!

I've often thought to myself, quietly, "What would Chuck Palahniuk be like if Chuck Palahniuk were a lucid, interesting and capable writer?" The answer is, he would be Will Self. The collection "Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys" was the first of Self's works I've had the pleasure to read. Now most recently it was "Grey Area," which I might say overall I preferred to "Tough, Tough" -- no knock on the latter.

Will Self does not mess around. He's not a "gritty realist" or some such term. Self's conjured worlds are dour reminders -- not dystopic so much as blurring the line & reflective of now and whatever after. They are representative of that eerie and ominous penumbra providing shade to modern life. In their most plausible thematic settings his stories are often marked by the strange, sometimes tragically coincidental circumstances of the doomed protagonist(s) (this idea comes through especially in "Grey Area" with the short stories, "A Short History of the English Novel" and "The End of the Relationship").

He also, innately I would imagine, possesses that David Mitchell-ly contemporary Britishness in his writerly idiom, which is probably a weird thing to point to as bearing weight, but I do like it, nonetheless. Don't ask me to explain what that's all about, though; I can say only that I feel a strange fondness for British culture and nothing better encapsulates this fond feeling than the voice in novels of writers like Self and Mitchell. No, not even an episode of "Mr. Bean" comes close.

"InclusionTM" was probably my favorite of this collection. The story is told in second-person narration, describing "you" as the individual who has come into the possession of a folder filled with various memoranda and notebooks put out by Cryborg Pharmaceutical Industries and a couple notable individuals, all of which more or less details a shady experimental run of a strange new anti-depressant discovered by Cryborg via a presumably imaginary tribe of aborigines called the Maeterlincki, who reside in a rainforest of unspecified location. The drug is formed from the crushed bodies and sub-hives of a kind of bee mite, which causes its users to find psychotropic zeal for all aspects of life, whatever it be that grabs one's attention, even things one might usually consider totally mundane. The drug's tentative name is, as you might guess, "Inclusion."

I would say much of what's best about the story, what's most effective, comes with the passages written by the lead doctor in charge of the experiment, Dr. Zack Busner, and the artist-patient Simon Dykes, who unravels, ostensibly, Cryborg's whole effort with his decidedly unusual reaction to Inclusion. I could comment on this, probably should, but the journal entries of the two aforenamed do as I say provide much of the locus of the story, of what it all might be meant to mean, if you're asking me. So I'll omit their crucial episode, and encourage you read it for yourself. It's really quite good. I don't think you'll be disappointed, that is.

Smallish aside: A friend of mine recently commented on a notable trend in fiction, located not specifically in the United States but definitely entrenched here, which probably has its roots in the work of Donald Barthelme and after him, George Saunders / David Foster Wallace. I wonder what sort of mark Self has left on the imagination of various up-and-coming American authors like Christian TeBordo, mentioned in the preceding post, or Ben Loory (featured in The New Yorker April 12 ed.) and elsewhere, as with the Israeli surrealist Etgar Keret. Those of you with any familiarity on this subject, I encourage your thoughts.


  1. Hi Matt, well, I enjoyed reading this post yours. I did, sir. I like your conversational pacing, among other things. Anyhow, I'm a fan of Mitchell and will be posting on Black Swan Green soon, in particular (in the second post) on M's musical references and how they don't quite work. I'm glad I stumbled on your site... Cheers, K

  2. Hey Kevin, thanks for the kind words. The feeling's mutual. I'm a fan of interpolations and look forward to more of your thoughts on Mitchell. I recently read Black Swan Green, so I'm curious to know how it struck you, especially as you mention the musical references, which I think by and large made only a small impression on me.

    I myself plan to read Number9Dream, the last of his novels I've yet to read -- until his latest comes out in late June, or so I hear: http://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Autumns-Jacob-Zoet-Novel/dp/1400065453/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=IE1GTGP5DL71T&colid=207CLBUJFMLYH

  3. I loved Grey Area. Somebody gave it to me about eight years ago, and I was so impressed with his inventive mind.

    Thanks for the email. I will keep you in mind for BookFox.