Books
3:05 pm
Mon July 26, 2010

The Simian Transcript by David Kopaska-Merkel

In 2008 in this space I commented on Kopaska-Merkel's first collection, Nursery Rhyme Noir. That volume was a retelling, in the form of hard-boiled detective fiction, of the murky, mysterious stories of Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and others. Those short- shorts were odd, but the volume was held together by the Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

Audio ?2010 Alabama Public Radio

In 2008 in this space I commented on Kopaska-Merkel's first collection, Nursery Rhyme Noir. That volume was a retelling, in the form of hard-boiled detective fiction, of the murky, mysterious stories of Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and others. Those short- shorts were odd, but the volume was held together by the Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

This volume, The Simian Transcript, is even odder and held together by nothing in particular, that I can see, except perhaps a wildly active imagination.

The book of 146 pages is comprised of 75 very short pieces. The longest may be called short-short stories, others are flash fiction or vignettes or, even though the Introducer David Schweitzer wants to deny it, jokes.

Pigeonholing the contents is impossible. It is science fiction, (Kopaska-Merkel is at the Alabama Geological Survey, so a kind of scientist). It is also fantasy, surrealism, horror, gothic, nightmares, prophesies, glimpses into the future, travels into the past, alternative histories.

It is, to put it mildly, the opposite of the kind of psychological social realism that I most like. So let me not even attempt to evaluate these phantasms, just describe some. Readers of this kind of thing, you already know who you are.

Several of the stories feature bizarre superheroes. Captain Marshmallow is one. When he is shot, the bullets pass through his "spongy torso," but "the holes healed in moments, leaving black scars where his flesh had been cooked by the bullets' passage." He is attacked by the villainess Violet Creamola, with a cigarette lighter, but he subdues her by falling upon her like "200 pounds of burning marshmallow." The captain is injured badly but will, we assume, recover.

There is also a story featuring a supervillain who has the power to turn everything into cheese. The narrator, a kind of private eye, suddenly notices that his office floor has become Swiss cheese and his chair's casters are stuck. As he escapes the building, the stairway turns to Velveeta. Upon reaching the street, "WHUMP! A glob of Munster the size of a dumpster hit the sidewalk. 'I've been fondued,' Jolene [his girlfriend] screamed." What bright critical remark might a reviewer make concerning this scene?

A futuristic story I enjoyed particularly was "Street People." At some undetermined future time convicted felons are made into blocks of sidewalk, alive, face up, but with no eyes. Pedestrians walk on them, spill coffee on them, and inflict other indignities too grim to be described here. "People are quite cruel, if not very inventive, and the State can pretend it doesn't know," the speaker of this story tells us. His ex-wife comes by occasionally to abuse him. He claims "I didn't know that girl was under age. Or that she had a weak heart."

In a story called "Touch," a take-off on the Midas tale, the speaker turns all liquids he touches with his lips into coffee. He is worried about his ultimate effect on the environment. The story ends, "Finally, he stopped at a drinking fountain and took the plunge. He had to know."

The one-pager, "Are You My Mother?" begins, "Mama was reincarnated as a rhino last week. This really sucks. She won't fit through any of the doors, so she sleeps in the carport."

If that doesn't sound like a joke, try this. "A hunchback says, 'It seems a fellow with eight arms walks into a bar.'" This fellow is known as O.B. or "Octopus Boy."

Since there are 75 of these, the reader is in the same situation as the audience listening to a Catskill comedian telling a joke every 12 seconds. You didn't like that one? Fine. Here's another one.

This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio on July 26, 2010. Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m.

 

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