This disturbing read is a breakthrough work of fiction that deserves a spotlight on the literary landscape as one of the best works of experimental writing of the year, if not ever. The story is quite a mess, and difficult to encapsulate in a review, and this is fully intentional, yet beyond the sheer irreal humor that permeates every page there is one strong epoxy that holds it all remarkably well together: the palpable sense of liberation that Wilson surely must have enjoyed as he sets out to unlatch his own memoir from every rule and formula and stricture of narrative ever made, with fervent, violent, glee. He rubs the face of Truth into the doggie doo of Fiction, with outrageously successful and bizarro results.
It’s a memoir but it’s not. The title of this story refers to the name of a serial killer clown, stalking his victims in the McMansion-bloated suburb of Vulgaria, set somewhere just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan…just outside the borders of a parody of conventional reality…yet also somewhere inside of D. Harlan Wilson’s own historical past (and present, too). The bizarre humor and deft wit in Wilson’s writing makes for compulsive, compelling reading, and generates a lot of laughs along the way (I have a high affection for the passage where the narrator tries to grapple with the Freudian concept of Uncanny), but I have to warn horror fans that this book might challenge anyone who simply likes to escape into the world of a straightforward story. The emotional thrill-ride of Wilson’s writing is grounded in intellectual acrobatics more than character identification. His purpose, I think, is trying to reveal that there is no such thing as a coherent story in the first place and that history is a fiction, and that that’s where the horror always lies, because we can’t escape these fictions, these truths, this stuff called language. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves is a fiction that our lives are built upon, as post-structualists have argued for about as long as Wilson has been alive, and so “Mr. Blankety Blank” is a figure for the desire for erasure from history, compelled by a smattering of hope for anything but the banal. The storytelling attacks itself in this grand experiment of “avant horror” that might remind you of the work of a young Kurt Vonnegut (if the “gut” part of his moniker were literal), and though it helps to know your postmodernist theory if you want to understand a book like this, it’s still a rip-roaring read. Despite it’s persistent intellectalizing this remains a genuine horror story because, much like Danielewski’s House of Leaves, it begs the question of its own capacity to capture something much larger and much more sinister than itself in language and narrative, and this is what Freud meant by “the return of the repressed.” Somewhere, somehow, the id is unlatched within this masterful work of historiography, and that’s what gives this bizarro memoir its own unique and uncanny sense of horror. See if you can handle it. You’ll probably laugh a lot. $15 bucks from: http://www.rawdogscreaming.com/blank.html
[This review will appear in the June 2009 issue of my e-newsletter, The Goreletter]