Coming Soon – Cripple Wolf. Jeff Burke’s back in action. There is something wrong with that guy.
I’ve spent the afternoon trying my damnedest to figure out what the title of this book means in relation to the stories contained within. I refuse to believe that it’s to be taken literally (which I think would mean a fun place to miscarry fetuses). Here’s what I came up with:
abortion: the willful termination of a pregnancy (which I am tying directly into the metaphorical concept of quickening, and not limiting to biological functions)
arcade: a passageway; an establishment established for the purpose of playing games for a fee
More than any bizarro I’ve ever read, these stories fit neatly into the category of absurdism. You’ve got three different tales of a protagonist attempting to find meaning in a meaningless world only to be beaten to a fucking pulp by said meaninglessness. There’s the werewolf who seeks acceptance in the world that rejects him, the guy who stakes his live on the existence of incorporeal strings sprouting from everything, and the gent who fights to break out of a zombie ruled post-apocalyptic world in order to make it to the wasteland on the other side. You’ve got these people with good intentions who are just obviously spending their lives fucking themselves over. It’s goddamned painful to watch.
So I think that the "abortion" part refers to the destruction of an idea. Each character experiences a quickening of his own: a means of popularity, escape, or survival. But the uncooperative world decimates that idea, striking it down almost as soon as the epiphany is felt. This seems familiar….where have I experienced this before…. Oh! Yes! Ass Goblins of Auschwitz! And who wrote that again?…. Oh yeah…..
It seems as if Cameron Pierce is actually trying to say something…
But is he saying that it’s really the fault of the unforgiving universe? There is that sad theme of self-sabotage. The willful destruction of the love letter. The willful eating of the face. The willful cutting of the strings.* It’s all about these guys destroying their own dreams. Aborting them, if you will.
But that’s the easy part, isn’t it? It doesn’t take a philosophical heavyweight to argue that one can abort oneself or one’s ideas. The arcade, I think, is the thing. The obvious answer (the house of fun and frivolity) is misleading. Why? Because this book may be bizarro, but it isn’t fun. At least not in a funny way. Even hitting sloths with a bicycle can be given an air of solemnity.** It’s got to be more. Of course, that also has to be part of it, or the joke would be in absentia. And that wouldn’t be fair at all.
I think the "arcade" refers to a passageway. Something like the passage of time, but less measurable. The passage of a life, perhaps, or an idea. Because the pain doesn’t come with what happens at the end of each story. They’re all pretty goddamned fucked up (don’t get me wrong), but it’s the sense of loss we experience as readers. We’ve traveled a ways with these characters an, on some level, we wished them the best. Because they’re not characters to be loathed. They’re you and me. They have dreams, but, unfortunately for them (and us) they live in a fucked up world completely devoid of purpose. So their pain is our pain. Those cut strings are your divorce. That missing face belonged to your high school boyfriend. That love letter was what could have been, but wasn’t.
Because, folks, our collective experience is the abortion arcade. It’s the details that don’t make one bit of difference.
*These things might possibly be construed as spoilers if only you had any idea what the fuck I was talking about. Muahahahahahaha!
**See previous footnote.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the ending. It was like a slap in the face at the close of a pleasant conversation. But that’s all life is, anyway. Isn’t it?
Quick plot break down: A bunch of people wake up in the wrong bodies. The protagonist and his wife are switched; the neighbor and his sheep are switched. Everyone’s baffled. But no one more so than Billy, who, after waking up in his wife’s lactating body, finds that she poisoned him the night before. Tina’s dead, trapped in Billy’s body.
Is that some serious existentialist shit or what?
What Billy is put through is absurd and cruel. Not only does he have to respond to biological urges he doesn’t understand, he also has to come to terms with the fact that his wife offed him. Billy’s not the most hyper-aware guy on the planet, but he’s getting hit with a rush of reality at a head-spinning rate. It quickly becomes apparent to him what is important in his life and how it all fits together- only it’s too late. You can’t bring back the dead. You don’t get a do-over.
Oh, shit. I’m depressing myself here. My problem, I guess, was that I could really identify with Billy. There were somethings he said and did that were just textbook Caris. It was painful seeing those things laid out in front of me, perfectly fitting pieces to a puzzle of absurdity. But that’s helpful, right? Just because Billy’s fucked doesn’t mean I have to be, too.
Ick. On to the funny bits. There are a lot of funny bits. In fact, this book made me laugh more in its whopping 57 pages than any other book I’ve read in recent memory. Or extended memory, for that matter. The set up and delivery of each situation was done beautifully and made for an extremely satisfying experience.
My favorite part was near the beginning. Billy (in Tina’s body), his pal Tucker (in Julia’s body), and Edgar (in his sheep’s body) all go down to the neighborhood bar to see the extent of the body switching damage. While there, they learn a great deal about the nocturnal habits of their buddies. Where the bar would usually be filled with grown men, it’s now filled with women- including a couple of teenage girls. What I enjoyed the most was how surprised and impressed the guys were with some of their peers. And when the body switches meant certain death (by the hand of spouse or teenage girl’s father) for the fellas. I can’t possibly articulate it, but it was fucking hilarious.
Steve Lowe is the shit. I am looking forward to reading his other book Wolves Dressed as Men as soon as humanly possible.