David's Reviews > The Unfortunates

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson
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's review
Jul 19, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: read-fiction
Recommended to David by: Michael Dirda, Washington Post

People aren't supposed to write reviews of B. S. Johnson's The Unfortunates in ham-handed homage to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore. I've finished my incomprehensible review. The next one I write is going to be coherent. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt about an unbound bunch of chapters, chosen randomly from a box.

Listen: B. S. Johnson's journalist hero has become unstuck in time. He ends one randomly-chosen chapter (rcc) picking through the debris of a recently-concluded soccer match he has covered for a newspaper, and starts the next rcc arriving in town in the same morning, anticipating the same match. He has seen his best friend die tragically young of cancer in one rcc, and then heartbreakingly healthy and anticipating a long and satisfying life in the next.

B. S. Johnson's hero is spastic in time. He has no control over which chapter the reader will choose next, but he doesn't seem to mind, as long as he's close to a pub. He is in a constant state of introspection, it seems, because he is obsessed with people and events he experienced years before. In spite of his rcc-generated temporal problems and a melancholy disposition, the hero manages to cover the soccer match as intended and file his story.

I recommend this make-your-own-Billy-Pilgrim story because, unlike most experimental fiction, reading this book is NOT like sitting in a very uncomfortable chair.

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