Despite the reference to Beckett in the title of the collection and some passing moments within, this collection of short stories borrows little and invents much.
As the opening quote intimates, Martiny invests in a continual creation of reality in real-time, through uncanny conjuring of the absurd, straddling the reader’s comfort zone like a menacing flogger.
I have read every Martiny book in a few sittings each. They are like anti-gravity books: unputdownable. While none of them strike me as masterpieces they are all entertaining, scholarly, suffused with wonder, breathtaking in variety and style, varied in composition, at times foolish, masterful, demented, and heartwarming. Never boring, incredibly memorable: fantastic in a word. Comparable only to outsider purveyors of oddball literature, like Quentin S. Crisp. Full of unexpected surprises. One might notice a commonality between the narrators of his works: middle class male with aesthetic and salacious interests. Though he switches it up here with some female perspective, elderly characters and down and outers.
You never know what kind of book you’re going to get with Martiny: post-apocalyptic, or old fashioned – in any case, it is going to be funny.
While over-the-top is the rule, there is always a convincing atmosphere and a perfect suspension of disbelief. For me, rarely achieved*
A vivid and brilliant imagination is required to come up with and pull off these scenarios. For instance, how to build sympathy for a connoisseur of train groping. There is a recurrent scenario: The dreaded encounter with in-laws, always leading to enchanting results.
Also discussed is the obsolescence of literature, criticism, and teaching. How technology can make us less human. A plethora of train stories, the pursuit of art, literature, and female conquests.
By turns disturbing, elegiac, dreamlike, intimate, zany, always strange, sometimes dirty, these imaginative forays into Modern woes are rife with literary allusion, quirky images, and eccentric observations. They are disquieting near futures and horripilating satires of tedious conventions and inter-societal regulations.
The book contains 15 stories, including one succulent scene from the novel The Pleasures of Queuing. In toto, a riveting sequence of literary delights.
The first story reminds me of the Bradbury story about the obese man who was afraid of his skeleton. (Can anyone tell me the name of this story?) Blubber as psychology, the relationship between gustatory and literary pleasures.
The author uses character description as modus operandi. He is unfettered by social conventions, story form, and political correctness. These are very subtly futurist, enclosed within the narrator’s viewpoint, interpreting the world through a skewed lens. Lynchian surprises await in these psychologically compelling snapshots of worlds ever so slightly dislodged from our own. He seems particularly interested in how language modifies reality.
Gleefully vibrant figurative language accounts for much of the visceral comedy to be found. Politically aware and topical on occasion, but not intrusive, he manages to pull off creepy character traits well, infusing the subtext with thought-provoking themes during scenes of cultural angst, sexual absurdity, and Kafkaesque bureaucracy, all amid gruesome images, which reveal the inner motives and struggles of characters. Taken to disturbing lengths: fatherhood, and the duty and wiles of the effective lover, outré landscapes of human longing. Xenophobic situations, erotically charged relationships hinging on a razor’s edge of murder and lust. The horrors of childrearing, marriage, interhuman relations in general – all of which are poignant, hilarious and fueled by subliminal outrage.
These are meaning-seeking, contemplative outcasts, drowning in the quiddities of human existence.
Whereas Samuel Beckett always struck me as mean, clinical, cold, abstract, compartmentalized, didactic, etc. such is not the case for these stories.
I look forward to the next Martiny book to appear.
*The list of authors who manage to utterly mesmerize me through their ideal spell casting, i. e. suspension of disbelief is pitifully short: Philip K. Dick, Reggie Oliver, Poe, Akutagawa, and select others. Most other authors simply don’t hypnotize so consistently.