Review of Waiting for Gaudiya & Other Stories by Erik Martiny

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.

Review of The Pleasures of Queuing by Erik Martiny

The second book by Martiny I’ve read. This one was very different from Night of the Long Goodbyes.

Both were singular in their content, and contained a mix of traditional and non-traditional techniques. I would call this a hysterical picaresque novel infused with mesmeric weirdness, peppered with quirky satirical aplomb and sensual, imagistic fabulism.

The sarcastic title is carried into the text, given new weight, and the author leaves very little time for the reader to breathe, since the laughter he induces will be fairly constant.

Frank, polished, memorable, nostalgic, wise and innocent at the same time. A gift for detail marks the first half of the novel. The second half slides into an uncanny valley of sexual frustration and fulfillment.

Extraordinary straight-faced humor draws the reader in to the overabundant Montcocq family, bilious with their modern trappings, but far more unstable than the average 2.5 kid-Lower? middle class fin de Twentieth siècle domestic unit. Martiny charms with multilingual literacy, very rapid jokes in every paragraph, outlining unique family dynamics using sophisticated language while commenting plentifully on religiosity, societal complacence, Irishness and Frenchness, playing with narrative distance, playfully reminding the reader of key details, and addressing them directly with instructions and apologies when necessary. I found this to be the antidote to the tiresome clichés of everyday life. The historical perspectives offered, the sexual revolution enacted on the scale of an individual, the tongue in other cheek feminism, conveys ecstatic enthusiasm for the richness of human life, though it is rife with digressions, with mazelike brambles of commentary. It purports to be a memoir by our first person narrator – every plot development might turn out to be a joke, keep your ears peeled for corny moments, as outrageous, vivid descriptions assail the senses, at times masterfully capturing an absurd but touching moment, in quick-paced, haphazard bildungromanesque fashion.

The author can milk a situation for all it’s worth, and historical recaps provide grandiosity, albeit excessively, while being morbid and hilarious footnotes to the events in the life of our hero. It is also anti-idyllic, a sort of anti-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, charming childhooddom pervades even the adolescent and pseudo-adult time periods he covers, with impeccable comedic timing, ranging from elevated storytelling from the perspective of an infant, and juxtapositions which are thrillingly relatable. Resistance, repression, not much guilt, familial bureaucracy, eccentricity, overpopulation of the household, deliberately wordy descents into momentary madness, proliferation, excess, overproduction of testosterone, all make for a chockablock barrel of laughs. The lengths his parents go to to live out their ideals is astounding, while the naivete, cruelty, childlike sense of awe and horror, the ridiculous levels of character quirks, the domestic insanity, schoolhood days, and bizarro-lucid maniacal categorization of psychologically disturbed behavior as symptoms of societal conditions, all make more a good read. It is Wodehouse uncensored, Bill Bryson, but unhinged, complete with body horror, male adolescent egregious over-sexualization, and a bulbous, generous, beating heart.

Review of Night of the Long Goodbyes by Erik Martiny

Readers’ artistic interpretation of this book may vary. More so than in many other novels I’ve read at least.

On this canvas, the colors are iterations and variations of the same hue. It is patterned expressionism, containing analogues for strange human and psychological dream creatures. The symbolism is associated with blood crafted into Surrealist representative backdrops, with commentary on subjects stretching from the historical, sexual, political, environmental, religious, artistic et al.

In the end, I found it undeniably compelling, even frightening. The author makes harsh demands of the reader at times, but doesn’t underestimate us or talk down to his audience. The precision of the language is on point. The artistic irreverence is best appreciated with a grain of salt. Overall, Night of the Long Goodbyes is nightmarish and uncouth. The more overt racist satire of the beginning acts as gatekeeper to the subsumption and subtle commentary in the later pages, but it is still integral to the story. I would not call the beginning representative of the quality of the whole, nor is it indicative of its readability.

Chapter 6 is an accusatory metafictional interlude, an intermission which deepens the intellectual scope of the haphazard monstrosities that came before. The ending too, like the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, may prompt more questions than resolutions, but also demonstrates the agency of the author and the main character, casts the action of the novel in a new light, and hits the highest notes of comedy between the covers.

Traditional storytelling methods are not frequently relied on, but the text is laced with Noveau Roman set-pieces, political overtones, and creepy, otherworldly dementia. It is propelled forward by an anxious, asthmatic narrator engrossed in the exploration of a hellish world. The soul is harness by technology, and self-regulated. The first-person narrator put me in mind of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Especially in the latter half of the book. When this book jumps the shark, at least it sticks the landing most of the time.

The dignity of struggle is depicted with stark irony. A modern day Sisyphus, through endurance, battles his love affair with the absurd, using it as a balm, embracing escapism, believing in the soul, even as he physically turns it off, then grasps the boulder, which pushes back in the form of hallucination.

Possibly an assault on soullessness, or a deadening of the artistic spirit, the book pulls no punches, and is an exercise in wish fulfillment in more than one sense. The haunting, nagging suggestion of what might have been and what might be hereafter plagues the internal monologues in much the same way it permeates a typically hinged mind. But the slow unhinging offers a fearful solution to our presiding anesthesia. How big a part does agency really play? Too seldom do we ask this question perhaps.

To what extent are we just victims or perpetrators of our environmental conditions?
This near-future, unreliable narrator, slipping in some commentary on recent British political squabbles, gives an overview of developments within genetics, and genealogy within his lifetime, which is, in all honesty, disgusting. At first strained, terse, an awkward, the novel begins as an unappealing setting for an adventure, but this book is anything but coddling. Extremism in myriad forms, and the unsettling racial tension and descriptions of society’s ethnic obsessions only transmogrify into intense body modification later. At times oppressive and bleak, but otherwise sustaining its erratically dissonant atmosphere throughout, The Night of the Long Goodbyes retains poetic sensibility where it lacks subtlety. When it possesses subtlety it puts on layers of complexity and baffling amounts of suggestion. The academic vocabulary on display lends a documentary stratum to the unraveling of events. Whereas the prevalent fantasy elements, such as the physical existence of the soul, lends more dream-aura to the discussion of the abstract concepts tangent to human life. Xenophobia and ethnic cleansing remain in the undercurrent throughout this compulsively transcribed account of disintegration. While it relishes its ambiguities and tackles uncomfortable topics, it’s sometimes difficult to tell when the author is being facetious. Major suspension of disbelief is required at all points, and B-movie convenient explanations for technology and sudden societal changes serve to jutter the plot forward. The depiction of a reality harsher and less tolerant than our own is nothing new, but similarities and analogues can be found scattered throughout history, and the unique approach Mr. Martiny takes is appreciated.

We live in a time when it is not hard to imagine the descent of governments into less logical forms, where emotional panic responses take place with growing frequency. A satire partaking more or horror than humor is warranted in my opinion. Though the humor is absurdist, it is prevalent enough to offset some of the more gruesome aspects of the plot. Some tropes include torture, imprisonment, vagabondage, bondage, spiritual awakenings, drug trips and more. The genocide, mass ethnic relocation, and the hyper-awareness of dysfunction within society lend credibility to some of the self-indulgent developments. The relatively recognizable elements of its dystopia are disconcerting to say the least. Violence, and organically integrated futuristic concepts take center stage, along with subtle world-building disguised as blatant social commentary. The physical ailments resulting from mental aberrations, the pervasive apathy, and the central Blue, which is a tangible manifestation of ever-present, niggling human flaws, condenses the future timeline recap in the first 25 pages to a sidereal role, as facing the possibility of extinction becomes the driving proponent of human endeavor. By degrees, an increasingly haunting allegory unfolds. By interpolating frame devices, playing with the role of the manuscript within the manuscript, and constantly thumbing his self-administered soul dilation, the narrator, author in his own right, is longing for and recapturing sensation in an anhedonic age, irresponsibly casting caution to the wind in his aesthetic pursuits, which are of a very hedonist bent. The impersonal approach to observing and writing the suffering of others is thought-provoking, though whether the author goes too far in some of his perambulations is up for you to decide.

Most disturbing to me was the allegory on the inception of plastic micro-particles into our bodies – a very real threat. Simply visualizing the process of our stupid plastic-centric species slowly incorporating our own filth into our bodies, becoming plastic organisms, devoid of emotion, is devastating to my psyche.

When emotions are meted out like medication, life becomes a constant battle against numbness and rage. The starkness of reportage, the tendency toward absurdity, the leaning toward the dream-state and the comforts thereof, the purpose of art, religious symbology, culture critics, cultural pandemics, the commentary on climate change, fanaticism, stagnation and isolation, all point toward the author’s agendas. Well-versed in world mythology, theology, and history as he must be, and disregarding his biography and relative obscurity, I can tell he is qualified to discuss many of these topics through his elegance and control. The erosion of culture and the blurring of edges between reality and fantasy is all too common nowadays. I just read Kaufman’s Antkind and got enough Philip K. Dickian mind-drenching to satiate me for years to come.

We are all familiar with some urban paradoxes: The invasion of other cultures, the seepage into every sector of life of imagined threats, the collective acceptance of corruption and disturbance, readjustment, accommodation, and how increasing shades of dismaying horror often result from over-reliance on our own comforts and solitude.

The book enters new territory of elegant description, in its slow slide toward undeniable apocalypse, indicated through transition phases. The ludicrous de-humanizing and desensitizing technologies, the reversal of norms, and the tendency toward lack of responsibility and lack of participation all speak volumes to our current state of affairs. Some intriguing mystery in the central concept will either percolate into interest or irritate the average reader. This book is overwhelmingly blue in cast, color and inclination, it is dark, with disturbing levels of irony, and displays a brazen disregard for logical infrastructure, while it takes world-building constraints for granted, is wacky, bizarre, and wallows in vagueness. The vocabulary is either a product of the author’s style or the style is artificially sophisticated for increased similitude or it is a product of the cracked narrator, who’s scattered reminiscences congeals only when convenient. I found myself, eagerly, voraciously interested after about 45 pages, turning pages with a near-constant smirk, guiltily barreling ahead even through unsettled discomfort. Ethno-graphic relationships don’t bother me.“Self-cleaning underpants” do. The goofy portmanteaus, and leakage of the main character’s psyche into the described setting lend elegiac sterility to the fantastical landscape. Boris Vian level styling might be to blame. The asthmatic narrator recognizes the hypnotic effect of the monochrome environment. The novel itself entertains its own form of mesmerism.

Through the permeation of environmental issues into other parts of life, society and reality break down in tandem. Such is the possibly prophetic thesis statement of the novel. If the transmogrified psychedelic body horror lunacy and experiments a la Naked Lunch don’t bother you, enter this realm of Blue to witness the consumption of our poor, ravaged planet, and how humans, given the right conditions, will suddenly become indistinguishable from animals.

Prolonged grotesque ecstasy taken to new heights of Surrealism – trigger warning: the hermaphroditic alien slug sex goddess creature torture scenario might be excessive by some peoples’ standards. But River Boat Books doesn’t publish, safe, easy, forgettable books. The unity between art and creator is always inherent in a work, but there are often many degrees of separation. The soporific, the metamorphic and metaphoric combine in a patented version of an oblivion-seeking society, stemming from the old concept of blue blood, and operating within a structure composed of doubting of the world’s true form. It makes you wonder if artistic interpretations are valid worldviews in and of themselves. Obsession and the pursuit of grandeur and the pure expression of beauty, the idealism and narcissistic downward spiral of an artist or mere keen observer is the label you could slap on most novelists. How accustomed people might become to depraved conditions and customs has already been fleshed out and analyzed throughout history. The very real disappearance of the English countryside is one more disconcerting thought.

Finally, philology takes on physical significance in the novel, language bleeds into the narrative. The layered unrealities, the extrapolation of pleasure, of transgression, the libidinous honesty, the unrepentant descent into the id, extracting and examining consequences of disregard for propriety in the self-righteous pursuit of immortality, make for really quite fascinating final chapters.