A young man tries to find his purpose in life—despite living in a bizarre surrealist landscape.
Poet Schomburg (The Book of Joshua, 2014, etc.) brings his unique voice to a first novel that may delight literary experimentalists but confound everyone else. This fabulist fable is set in the town of Pie Time, a village that seems to contain a factory that makes only cigarettes and beer, a church, an inn, a bar, and a few shops. The book’s protagonist is Mano Medium, a factory worker who is suddenly thrust into the dual roles of barber and butcher. This Byzantine composition is also populated by more than 50 characters, cataloged in a list at the front of the book. They include a few distinct personalities like Sisi Medium, Mano’s mother; his friend Pepe Let; and Enid Pine, a girl Mano fancies, but most characters are simply avatars for their professions—The Businessman, The Postman, etc. The narrative’s driving conflict is a plague called “God’s Finger,” which not only kills, but also leaves a hole in its victim’s body with a random consumer product stuck in it. Schomburg fills his fable with plenty of grotesque imagery, including a tide of bodies floating down the river to a nearby community, where they’ve been assembled into a horrifying pyramid. Along the way, Mano becomes a sort of curator of the death objects and teaches his neighbors to be accepting of death itself. But the character of the town changes dramatically again with the arrival of XO, a mysterious corporation that starts systematically replacing the local institutions with its own brands. By the time Enid rides triumphantly out of town on her mammoth, traditional readers wouldn’t be mistaken in thinking, “What the hell did I just read?”
A fancifully written experiment that can’t decide whether it wants to be an absurdist meditation on the human condition or a satire of consumer culture.