16 April 2011

The Gospel of Anarchy

Justin Taylor popped up on my horizon with the publication of The Word Made Flesh, co-edited/authored with Eva Talmadge, which I thought was interesting in concept.  I was recently pitched Taylor's first novel The Gospel of Anarchy by HarperPerennial marketing manager-extraordinaire Erica Barmash.  I really didn't want to pass on the opportunity; the book sounded interesting.

The Gospel of Anarchy has a unique structure, rooted in Taylor's experience with the short story but mixed with poetry, sermon, and stream-of-consciousness.  The fine narrative thread running through the changing form of the book concerns David, a dissatisfied college dropout, Katy, a hippie/anarchic acolyte, and the absent Parker, a hobo/prophet and the object of Katy's reverence.  David has grown disillusioned with his life - he broke up with his girlfriend, dropped out of college, and now supplements his dead-end, cube-farm job with binges of Internet porn.  Wandering the streets of Gainesville one evening, he runs into an old friend from high school (Thomas), also a college-dropout and now a dumpster-diver living in an anarchists' collective, the Fishgut.  Having nothing better to do, David follows Thomas (and fellow-dumpster-diver Liz) back to the Fishgut where he meets Katy; through Katy, David learns of Parker's cryptic "anarchristianity" and he just...stays....

The Fishgut is an interesting collection of humanity - hippies, anarchists, off-the-grid dropouts, college students, and so on.  Some are there for the free crashpad, some for the drugs, some for the sex (indiscriminate), and some for the pleasure of "sticking it to the man".  When Katy has a vision - revealing the location of Parker's prophetic notebook - the collective starts to change from an anti-corporate, anti-establishment stance to one with pseudo-religious underpinnings.  Not a cult, per se, Katy doesn't brainwash people into believing in the second coming of Parker, but Katy's fervor forces the Fishgut residents to make a choice - follow her/Parker (David) or leave (Thomas and Liz).

The changing form and narrator of The Gospel of Anarchy can get confusing; every narrator (even the "omniscient" one) tells the story "slant" (which may be intentional).  What kept me reading was the odd notion of "ecstasy" - religious ecstasy, sexual ecstasy, an endorphin high, a drug high - and how this state of mind borders on insanity, how characters battled against or gave into this loss of mental control.  If you give into that loss of control, how long do you last until you fail to tell fiction from reality?   

*Dear FTC, I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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