Bach weaves a stunning debut out of disparate parts, melding settings and genres in this experimental literary novel.
This novel refuses simple description. It follows its lead, Krishawn, who’s contending with a series of progressively worsening brain tumors. But what emerges from his struggle is more than merely a meditation on the meaning of life. It’s a journey from hedonism to psychedelics to sci-fi, trafficking not in fablelike metaphor but in nuanced, even esoteric, dialogue. The novel presents a morass of stories, covering sex, death, and the rest of human experience through its cast and multifarious settings, all of which inform each other, from a mystical mountain-climbing expedition to an ambulatory phallus and beyond, shifting in both content and tone throughout. It’s fitting that Krishawn’s most concerning cancerous growths are pressing on Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, brain structures responsible for speech and language development, respectively, as many stories seem sparked by accidents of language: “Krishawn had always thought it funny how ontology and oncology were separated only by a ‘c.’ ” But again, reading this novel is not only a matter of interpreting the disparate vignettes of the story as the degradations of a dying mind, drug-born hallucinations, or religious experiences pointing to larger universal truths. Rather, they are all of these things and none of them, calling on the reader to find the connections among the elements of this pastiche and make of them both a whole and a sum of parts. Readers will find the novel challenging, but it’s never boring; it discards the willful obfuscation of many experimental novels in favor of a feverish pace and a wildly emotional ride. Individual sections are readable on their own, and while the vocabulary may sometimes be obtuse, the structure and context keep meaning within reach, and readers ultimately feel more like they’re being taught this unfamiliar vernacular than taunted with it.
An incredible debut, as entertaining as it is outlandish, with at least one thing (and most likely many more) for everyone.