I have had this book sitting on my shelf for several years but was hesitant to pick it up. My procrastination stemmed from the fact that The BasketbalI have had this book sitting on my shelf for several years but was hesitant to pick it up. My procrastination stemmed from the fact that The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll was one of my favorite books in my twenties. Not only did I read it many times, but for several years when I was an actor I chose to perform a monologue from The Basketball Diaries as a frequent audition piece. Despite what seemed to be mixed review, I needn’t have worried. I loved The Petting Zoo.
First of all, it’s about something dear to my heart…the struggles of a neurotic yet talented artist. And second of all, it’s freaking hilarious. The Petting Zoo features the funniest, most ridiculous over-the-top masturbation scene that you will ever read. I can pretty much guarantee it. There was a great deal of humor in The Petting Zoo, as well as delightfully odd characters that also manage to ring real and raw. Carroll is a master of characterization, and we feel we’re meeting real flawed humans with deep insecurities. The humor and characters alone make this book worth the read.
Just as in The Basketball Diaries, The Petting Zoo is quintessentially New York. The story follows one Billy Wolfram who was born in NYC and never left. We learn about his traumatic childhood, his sexual, religious, and social neuroses, and his progress as an artist to the highest echelon of fame and success. He seems to be floating above it all until he attends an exhibit of Diego Velázquez at the Met and has a nervous breakdown that leads to a slow fall into derangement. On the surface, amidst his inner turmoil, he mixes aesthetic questions about what qualifies as great art with his religious trauma, having been raised Catholic. He questions whether his work is “spiritual” enough to be truly powerful and moving. He falls into a solipsistic mindset and struggles to confront and address his long-buried feelings of inadequacy.
The story also features an odd mystical aspect to it that one could equally consider a literary device or a sign of Billy’s loss of sanity. He speaks to a raven that tells him that it’s an eternal raven that was one of the two ravens on Noah’s Ark and participated in other Biblical stories as well. And in later times, it became a sort of…witness to the greatest artists of all time, attempting to help them advance their abilities, as a quirky muse of sorts. The raven occasionally drops in and speaks with Billy in a seeming attempt to get him to accept himself and self-actualize.
The Petting Zoo was actually incomplete, although very close to completion, when Jim Carroll died. But his family and agent partnered to finish the remaining parts. It came across to me as seamless. I found no disjunction in the storytelling or writing, so whatever they finessed, I think they did an excellent job of staying true to his style and intentions. The Petting Zoo is absurd and yet feels raw and honest. The characters are outrageously quirky and yet they were also utterly real. The storytelling is vibrant and the language is exhilarating. I became lost, just like Billy, in The Petting Zoo and consider it to be a masterpiece. Carroll left behind a powerful and profound legacy. Highly recommended....more
"... Beth championed it near weekly in her column for the gina and krista round-robin. It is a jigsaw of writing and you find yourself falling down the rabbit hole. 'A book to ponder and to read for the sheer life on the page,' Beth observed.
"This is a psychedelic-Burroughs-dream and an aggravated-Lewis-Carroll-nightmare, a world in which we must continuously re-adjust our bearings....The brilliance of his imagination aside, we must also consider that this novel is a lot to absorb....Yes, the novel is difficult to read at times. Yes, you will have to read certain passages more than once and often read them in various ways. Of course, your face will start to hurt from the perplexed look you'll be wearing over the duration of the book. However, you will be refreshed with new characters and situations every few pages--all of which will be other-worldly. You will stumble onto sparks, which will snowball into a catharsis more than once. Most of all, you will be challenged as both a reader and a thinker. If the pros outweigh the cons for you, then David David Katzman might just be your new favorite author."
5/27/12 Received a thoughtful review in the Psychedelic Press UK here: http://fb.me/1L1NL4ebJ The reviewer says:
"The book’s blurb describes it as 'Innovative and astonishing… [breathing] new life into the possibilities of fiction' and, without doubt, the novel lives up to this description: A psychedelic journey into the splintered mind of a life on the desiring edge."
5/1/12 A Greater Monster has won a Gold Medal as an "Outstanding Book of the Year" in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards. So say the awards: "These medalists were chosen from our regular entries for having the courage and creativity necessary to take chances, break new ground, and bring about change, not only to the world of publishing, but to our society." There were only 10 winners in different categories out of 5000 entries. The judges of the competition sent me the following review quotes from their evaluation:
"Imaginative, explosive and poetic. A real trip!" "A brain-singeing look at humanity at its strangest." "Dark and edgy, like a Blade Runner for English majors."
1/27/12 - Another lovely review, this one from from Reader Views critic Paige Lovitt. Full review is here. Last paragraph reads:
Intelligently written and displayed, A Greater Monster is truly like no book I have ever read before. While visions of Alice in Wonderland strayed through the back of my thoughts, this book is so much more. I admire David David Katzman’s creativity and the amount of work that must have gone into creating such an exotic literary gift for readers who like to read beyond the lines of contemporary fiction.
Received a review from Midwest Book Review. Here are the highlights:
[When] we see something unusual, we rarely expect it to be the tip of the iceberg. A Greater Monster is a novel from David David Katzman who brings readers into a unique alternate reality that has many twists and turns ... With unique humor and plenty to think about, A Greater Monster is a fine and much recommended choice.
Several writers were kind enough to read my book in manuscript form before its release. They had the following to say:
“Brilliant, insane and utterly unique, A Greater Monster offers pure sensory stimulation, verging on sensory overload. The graphics, concept and narration are pause-worthy, and they all combine to create literary indulgence at its best—its most interactive. The narrator in A Greater Monster doesn’t hold your hand and guide you; he doesn’t ask you to like him. Instead, he delivers a sharp uppercut to your chin and asks you to stop cowering, open your eyes, and fight back. You will. He’ll make you.”—Jen Knox, author of To Begin Again (2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award winner)
“Beautiful mystic-schizo DayGlo wordage. Poetic prose that befuddles, enchants, and amuses the reader at the same time.”—Lance Carbuncle, author ofGrundish Askew
“This is bizarro fiction at its most intense. It contains scenes and unique designs that seem engineered by some Mad Hatter and Chuck Palahniuk cross-breed.”—Lavinia Ludlow, author of alt.punk
“After David David Katzman’s brilliant first novel, Death by Zamboni, a masterclass in the uses to which comic writing can be put, comes a novel that couldn’t be more different. A Greater Monster opens in a world that’s immediately and recognizably ours … before spinning off into a spiritual (and carnal) quest that reads like Alice on acid, while channeling every trash sci-fi nightmare Creepy Tales had to offer.”—Charles Lambert, author of Scent of Cinnamon and Any Human Face
“A Greater Monster is a highly creative and original story combining poetry, imagery, and prose—all working seamlessly without a break in momentum.”—Charlie Courtland, author of Dandelions in the Garden
“I can’t express how brilliant my favorite scenes in A Greater Monster are. In this extraordinary work, Katzman pushes language to do things, which are truly astounding. This is where Artaud meets Williams S. Burroughs meets Lewis Carroll in an obscene, violent dissolution of character, plot, and setting. A Greater Monster dismantles the foundations of narrative, of the human subject as master and center of time and space, reason and language, and the word is transformed into image, into an indigestible thing that both resists easy consumption and is utterly entertaining.”—Carra Stratton, Editor Starcherone Press...more
Wonderful, strange and immersive, The Manual of Detection is one of my favorite books in recent memory. The world Berry has invented feels like the moWonderful, strange and immersive, The Manual of Detection is one of my favorite books in recent memory. The world Berry has invented feels like the movie Brazil crossed with Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and inspired by classic noir detective stories and films, such as The Maltese Falcon. It's dark and grim yet somehow not depressing. I couldn't put it down.
The surreal narrative begins with the main character, Charles Unwin, who is a clerk at an elaborate and serpentine detective agency, being unexpectedly promoted to detective and feeling convinced it is an error, which he then sets out to correct. His efforts to prevent his own promotion, and find the detective he was mysteriously promoted to replace, lead him into a twisted, multilayered conspiracy involving both the Agency, and its most notorious enemies.
This is a book worth reading without even skimming the back cover...allow yourself to be surprised by all the bizarre twists and turns and odd mysteries Unwin faces. Even the climax, despite the complexity of the plot, holds together wonderfully well. I loved this. Highly recommended....more
Mark Ryden is one of the world's finest living artists, and his new collection is perhaps his most brilliant. Previous pieces certainly stand out as iMark Ryden is one of the world's finest living artists, and his new collection is perhaps his most brilliant. Previous pieces certainly stand out as individually superior, but as a whole this collection is his most powerful. I was rather breathless paging through this book, and i think it moved me because it was his most thematically tight and yet emotionally expansive show.
Ryden takes cartoon dreams and gives them real life dimensionality. The detail goes beyond obsession into a magical realm of "that's not fucking possible." His paintings are windows into an alternate reality conjured with such commitment and patience that they become hyper-real. I feel like i could step right into them. And, in fact, several of his paintings inspired scenes in my current novel. This book is a treasure.
Here is the painting from The Tree Show featured on the cover of the book:
Kabuki is a series about transformation. Yes, it has beautiful art. Yes, it has great writing. And while the central theme of the narrative is transfoKabuki is a series about transformation. Yes, it has beautiful art. Yes, it has great writing. And while the central theme of the narrative is transformation, what I found even more powerful is the way the art of the stories transforms from collection to collection, seeming to mirror the character’s evolution.
I have met David Mack a couple times at Comicon, and I’ve been meaning to ask him if he always intended from the beginning for the story to be about transformation and to move from standard comic style to collage. I like to think that it’s something he came up with as he went along, and the writing of the story transformed as he developed it. That the book evolved him as the story itself evolved.
On a plot level, the story begins in rather mainstream comic fashion. Kabuki is set slightly in the future, primarily in Japan. The main character, Kabuki, is one of a group of eight female assassins called The Noh who wear iconic masks and stylized costumes. They are a team managed by the government and sent out to instill fear and kill gangsters and various corporate criminals. However ... not all is as it appears. A multi-layered conspiracy ensues. Seven graphic novels complete the story.
Kabuki Circle of Blood. Mack wrote and drew. Black & white. Has a grim, raw style. The art seems a bit underdeveloped to my eye. Has a bit of Sin City tone but more surreal. With more emphasis on emotions. The story is overall, fairly straightforward to this point.
Kabuki Dreams. Mack wrote and drew. Takes a huge leap forward in style and has more of the Mack signature look. Collage style begins, color is introduced. Blends pencil sketching, ink drawings, painting and even photography. This is a book of interior monologue and, as the title would lead you to believe, is trippy.
Kabuki Masks of Noh. Mack writes and draws some scenes, but this is primarily guest drawn. The style returns to black & white, but overall more refined, precise and graphic than Circle of Blood. Rick Mays draws a pretty phenomenal Scarab. The various artists seem to be chosen to help represent the style of each of the assassins. This sequence consists of short stories introducing us further to the other members of the Noh.
Kabuki Skin Deep. Mack returns to both draw and write. In Skin Deep his incredible artistic skills beginning to shine. He can morph like a chameleon from cartoonish renderings to realist representational paintings to pencil sketches.
Kabuki Metamorphosis. Mack writes, draws, letters and designs. For the sheer brilliance on display, I think Metamorphosis is the most beautiful of the series and my favorite. The diversity of techniques is breathtaking.
Kabuki Scarab Lost in Translation. An action-packed side-step featuring everyone's favorite assassin, Scarab. Illustrated in graphic black & white by Rick Mays, the coolest artist from the Masks collection. Just as the art harkens to outstanding comic illustration style, it doesn't push the envelope in content or technique. A fun diversion.
Kabuki The Alchemy. Mack takes his signature collage style even further, using cut up items and diverse materials including envelopes and letters sent to him from fans of the series to tell the existentialist, inspirational conclusion of Kabuki's epic story. Although visually, I prefer Metamorphosis, I truly admire The Alchemy for showing the potential of comics. Yes, many artists like R. Crumb and Chris Ware have achieved fame for non-superhero stories. But Mack essentially demonstrates the potential before our eyes to move beyond the dictates of the superhero form. A series that begins with ultra-violent superhumans fighting battles for stereotypical reasons ends with artistic explorations of our inner potential as creative beings. Kabuki moves beyond standard comic book “hero” tropes into a story of heroic action as self-transformation, moving beyond the dictatorship of the system, the fear of change and the psychological control of the past. The hero is one who evolves not one who kills everything. And Mack says we each have the potential, regardless of what has come before, to evolve. Perhaps best of all, the transformation that takes place goes much further than within the narrative; it is a transformation of the form of graphic storytelling. Now that is truly inspirational.
I’m on a life raft floating across a sea of words, pulled into swirling tidal pools to observe the rich, vibrant forms spawning like phantasmagoric alI’m on a life raft floating across a sea of words, pulled into swirling tidal pools to observe the rich, vibrant forms spawning like phantasmagoric aliens (forms that once appeared mundane but only because, previously, no one had observed them as closely), pulled deep down by the undertow—note the hilarious mating habits in-situ of the foolish Parrot Fish—pulled out across hyaline waters sparkling like blue diamonds to drift peacefully in the doldrums before being abruptly dashed over great cataclysms of horror and despair; I’m a fool, a madman, an obsessive-compulsive; I’m fragile like a porcelain flower, a mother whose son was taken from her before it could breast-feed; I’m a laser, a microscope, a telescope, a catalog, a representation of the inner life of an artist much deeper than any Portrait of. I am going Swann’s Way.
If one were a close observer of both (in)humanity and other (in)organic states with an addiction to the documentation of one’s thoughts, one might spend a lifetime writing a never-ending story in an inevitable (and eternally recurring in its inevitability because words can never capture the entirety of reality) failed attempt to capture all of life in a mad swoop. Much of literature (if not all) is an attempt to capture at least some corner of this life (whether it be outer or inner), but for Proust that corner bursts out tesseract to encompass the very existence of a man from childhood until elderhood through the prism of memory (and not just anyone’s memory, but clearly the memory of an autistic savant who can conjure up the texture of a grain of sand in the crease of the toe of a boot worn on the day a particular slant of light reached through a window that was normally closed but on this particular day was opened due to some certain random but explicable convergence of events). The unfurling of these thoughts is as delicate as the dance of a sea anemone in a gentle undersea breeze, if a breeze that occasionally rips the limbs off the anemone and taunts you with the inner juices dripping from the dismembered tentacle. At times, I could not take this torture, the agony and horror of Swann’s idiotic, naïve love (and, perhaps, even more so, the horror of seeing my own reflection in Swann’s way); and knowing how he ends up if not knowing how he gets to ending up that way (because I have not yet read the subsequent books of In Search of Lost Time), made it all the more painful. Thank Proust for the slapstick hypochondria of Auntie Leonie and the aristocratic wit and folly to brighten the murder of love.
Softly flowing linguistic slitherings mingle with crisp literary devices, even mundane ones—such as cliffhangers—profoundly philosophical musings that achieve near Zen-states of enlightenment, and an unparalleled grasp of language induces me to declare Swann’s Way to be the work of a schizophrenic witch, and the greatest work of literature ever written…and this is only book one. But nothing I’ve ever read, certainly, compares to it. Which isn’t to say I haven’t received a greater degree of pleasure from other works, but pleasure is not the only measure of success. In fact, as Buddhism would ask you to consider, pleasure is ephemeral and disappointing. One doesn’t read Proust for “fun.” One reads Proust to become lost, amazed, and weakened, to learn, struggle, and grow, and, in the end, to admire what it is possible to create with dedication and passion and skill.
On a final mundane note, I do highly recommend this edition. Although I have not read the Moncrieff version, based upon the quality of Lydia Davis’ gorgeous translation, and the notes in the preface regarding the errors and personal emendations made by Moncrieff to Proust’s writing, I would hazard that this is a superior version. Welcome to a peculiar world....more