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Author Topic: Primordial by D. Harlan Wilson  (Read 1615 times)

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« on: July 30, 2014, 04:31:32 AM »

Primordial An Abstraction by D. Harlan Wilson
Anti-Oedipus Press • 2014
Paperback: 167 pages • 5x8 • $13.95 • ISBN 978-0-9892391-5-8
Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble

Reviewed by Geoff Nelder

I was tempted to write this review in the style and sense of the novel’s narrative but I tried that with Zombie Acopalypse! Fightback created by Stephen Jones for which I became the unholy revenant. I wrote it as one of the zombies featured in the anthology, full of bile with a hunger for the blood of its author. My cool review bombed. This one is different.
 Primordial is a bizarre campus novel in which a professor has his doctorate revoked and he returns as a student to regain it. Others are in a similar situation. He fights to understand the rationality behind it even though it’s probably a scam. In some ways it is more a stream of nightmarish consciousness than a novel. The plot is almost irrelevant although not the university setting. Characterization is so strong it hurts. The prof is mostly acerbic, especially in his relationships with fellow students and his lecturers but his rollercoastering sanity is a joy to witness.
Putting it in the kind of terms the author uses, the main character is in an existential crisis although if that means one is compelled to make love with one’s eschatological professor – the one with a swell bust – in every bathroom in campus then the crisis could be worse.
In keeping with the subject of his thesis: the violence of rhetoric, much of the narrative shocks in a compelling way. Truisms shock too – eg ‘Most of adult life is spent discovering the mystery of how very little you matter.’ Most of mine is spent in denial of that but I have to bend to its truth. The words the author chooses (very carefully, which makes a refreshing change from most novels thrown my way) deserve revisiting with an eye for another interpretation. It could be that my reaction is wrong but as with all novels once it is published it no longer belongs to the author, but the reader. Hence, take this sentence: ‘The academic ideological apparatus interpellates all of us.’ I have cartographical and mathematical training so my brain initially read that as interpolates all of us. Hah. I like that concept of the bureaucracy taking us not for what we are but as a statistical average, fitting us in between fixed points of reference, like contours being estimated on a map between the few known spot heights. However, Wilson doesn’t actually say that because the rarer word interpellate is about making a point of order in the business of government – or similar. This might be one of those instances where the author has no objection to the reader making up their own interpretation.
As an editor of thousands of short stories and dozens of novels, one aspect of pleonastic writing I am compelled to correct is echoing. Not just a repeated word word by slippage of hand but when a phrase is used twice in a paragraph. It’s an amateur-alert red flag to an editor when used twice in a paragraph. However, it can be a masterstroke when crafted by an expert. Consider when our ex-professor is road-raged on page 90: ‘I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat. I hit the truck again with the bat.’ Brilliant.
He is wallowing in the repetition and it reinforces our mental image so much more than saying he hit the truck with the bat 16 times. As the prof says much later in the novel, ‘repetition is just as good as karma.’  We could quote himself back with ‘That’s not altogether true. Nothing ever is.’ There are many such self-referential pieces and another is, ‘Something happens here.’ In fact that is a whole chapter – number 66. I echo – Something happens here.  He could have said, ‘Nothing happens here.’ However, that wouldn’t be true unless the page was blank like page 164, but the words 66 for the chapter heading is already on p132 so it cannot be nothing, hence ‘Something happens here.’ Of course it is a link, too from the previous to the next chapter. I love this book.
I’ve read and reviewed other D. Harlan Wilson works, Codename Prague, and They had Goat Heads. All enjoyable, but this I’ve savoured the most. It took longer than any other short novel to read because of that savouring. There are few book extracts I read out loud to my wife, but I did from this book. Not that she listened.  This book will remain in my thoughts for ever, or as the unnamed prof says, ‘Once you engage a singularity you are doomed to fondle the ticklish parts of its shadow for eternity.’
This is one of those rare novels you can treat like a poetry book and take off the shelf for a random dip when you need your complacency stirred. Completely recommended for all aficionados of the bizarro genre or if you are willing to have your brain tickled.


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