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Washtenaw Flaneurade
26 May 2007
Karate Wafers
Now Playing: Feist--"My Moon My Man"
*Sigh* Only one of you will ever know what that means.

This afternoon I finished reading Jim Munroe's An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil (2004), a thoroughly enjoyable and unexpectedly redemptive read. Munroe's a Canadian novelist and zinester who's pretty much emerged as one of my favorite contemporary writers for several reasons. I first came across his debut novel, Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask (1998) by chance in the Akron public library and was dazzled in a pleasantly (and tellingly) lowkey way. So many of today's more prominent novelists and writers latched onto the possibilities afforded by postmodernism with bloated, excruciatingly pompous results (a friend's stalwart cajoling is still trying to get me to read David Foster Wallace again after I suffered through Broom of the System; Michael Chabon wasn't as bad, but I found The Mysteries of Pittsburgh decidedly underwhelming). Munroe's work manages the very difficult task of tackling the bohemian, seemingly sincerity-averse culture of young urban artists and intellectuals in a genuine, funny way without getting infected by all the poserdom. Speaking as someone who's haunted the fringes of this world for some time, it's hard enough to live like that, let along write like it. The Canadian-ness of his characters (Toronto-based, his work's often set there, too) gives them, for this American reader, an extra sense of dislocation; they seem very familiar and very strange all at once. I've often wondered, after all, what it must be like to live next door to us. Munroe's also self-published his last three novels--the present one, Everyone In Silico (a virtual reality epic that I found to be a rare misstep, a little too reminiscent of stuff by people like William Gibson) and Angry Young Spaceman (a funny, haunting account of a futuristic Peace Corps-type volunteer on an alien planet, mixing show business, romance and politics in a breathlessly seamless mix), thereby side-stepping the morass of corporate literature and providing a great example of an independent artist. He also takes the idea of the fantastic or what appears to be the fantastic seriously, at a time when many "serious" writers still consider all notions of genre beneath them, and when those interested in the idea seem to treat it more as some kind of exotic strain they can simply graft onto their own work (I speak of the McSweeney's people, but I may be being unfair as I've only read reviews of their "genre" anthologies). In Opening Act, there are elements of the fantastic and horrific, but the story itself is more a fable about coming to terms with one's thirties, something with which I obviously strongly relate. His "voice" also strongly reminds me of my own, and it's encouraging and inspiring to see that such a one has actually finished four novels, three of them excellent. I'm on a monthlong hiatus from writing after working straight for three months, but Opening Act's strongly encouraged me to start again, which I will at the beginning of June. Thanks for the work, Jim, and keep 'em comin'!

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:28 PM EDT
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