The 40-something protagonist of Kaufman’s (Born Weird, 2012, etc.) surreal novel travels to a city where metaphors are real and his own anxieties could be fatal.
Kaufman’s novel plays with archetypes in a grandiose fashion. Charlie, the hero, is a divorced father still ruminating on the end of his long marriage. Without warning, he magically arrives in the city of Metaphoria. “Everything in Metaphoria is metaphorical. This can get a bit troubling, confusing, even intimidating. However, that is the point,” Charlie is told just before he's transported there. Once he arrives, he's given the role of a detective and asked to find the missing heart of his client’s husband—and has a bomb sewn inside his own chest to raise the stakes. As befits the concept of Metaphoria, nearly every character he encounters has something stylized about them, from a bereft Cyclops to a sinister scientist scamming the city’s population. Along the way, Charlie grapples with his own anxieties, which manifest in unsettling ways—including the perennial threat that he might shrink away to nothingness. Despite the book's short length, there’s a lot going on here, and it’s not always clear if Charlie’s journey is intended as satire or a symbolically rich inner journey à la Robertson Davies’ Jungian novel The Manticore. The whimsical tone is marred by some of Kaufman’s word choices. The method of transportation in and out of the city is called a “poof,” and Charlie learns that, once he’s sorted out his issues and had an epiphany, he will “trigger a poof.” The resulting phrase has far different connotations than the fantastical ones found in this narrative, which creates some dissonance when reading it.
Kaufman’s novel is expansive and imaginative, but at times its cartoonish sense of whimsy feels overpowering rather than nuanced.