Fantasy, sci-fi and the avant-garde combine to form this ambitious Pandora’s box of a novel that leaves its readers guessing, though they might not be sure which questions to ask.
What happens in these pages is not easily described, but it’s even less easily explained. Divided into 10 wildly different sections, the book first begins in a Spartan room inhabited by a boy and an artifact as mysterious as the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The object resurfaces throughout the book. When the boy looks at the “medium size cubical silver box”—a precise description that’s still vague—his eyesight goes blurry, but turning away leads to abstract visions. Do the subsequent sections capture these visions or are we all trapped inside the box? What is certain is that this challenging, experimental novel has tremendous reach, moving from a city bus and spreading outward to the very hem of the universe, where even the laws of physics begin to fray. Among the mysterious objects, metaphysics and politics, genres and space-time bend; one scene is actually set within a Möbius strip. At times, the story feels intricately woven; at others, simply convoluted. Author Exarchos operates in the traditions of James Joyce and Julio Cortazar, daring readers to deduce meaning from what might be madness but what is often a maddening text. Though the story is as engaging and perplexing as an optical illusion, the language is alternately grand and pedestrian. In a section set inside a computer universe made from binary code, “Continuity is sacrificed on the altar of total flexibility. Abolishment of mediation makes chaos less sexy.” But in another a section about old-world seafarers that echoes back to Ulysses (Homer’s version this time), the language slips a bit as a character reflects about his “childhood friend, his best buddy.” This looseness with language—sometimes academic, other times irreverent—might leave readers wondering what Exarchos’ intention truly was. As with the puzzling work of, say, David Lynch or Mark Rothko, the audience may wonder if they “get it” and whether there was ever anything to “get” at all.
A confounding appetizer for the Uroboros, but perseverance may reveal important truths—that is, if there are actual truths be revealed.