Written by John Palmer
Where to even begin? This novel is such a labyrinthian exploration of self, identity, and the meaning of existence that I feel like a degree in quantum mechanics would really benefit me right now. With its unique blend of gonzo journalism and biography, it teeters so firmly on the tightrope between fact and fiction that, at times, it becomes difficult to differentiate the two. I also found its dark undertones and almost anarchistic sentiment somewhat reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, and Douglas Adams’ Generation X, yet at the same time, it was undeniably fresh and entirely unique. I get the feeling that everyone who reads this book will find their own interpretation of its meaning because it’s as much of a story as it is a journey towards self-awareness.
This novel explores both the finding and the deconstruction of self through the exploration and documentation of the mysterious artist Ezra Maas. As we learn about the artist’s formative years, his cult-like rise to fame, and his ever-growing need for privacy, we also learn about his biographer, Daniel James, who may or may not be the same person as the author. It makes for an engrossing read and its level of detail is astounding. What I found most intriguing about it though, is the way the novel is split into four different elements. Each one adds an extra level of understanding that I don’t believe a single, united story would have been able to achieve. There are biographical chapters detailing the life and work of Ezra Maas which open you up to the elusive artist and his life’s work. Then there are the gonzo journalism chapters that showcase Daniel’s journey of discovery into the secret life of Maas; this offers the reader further insight into what effect such an enigmatic character can have upon the world, and reality itself. There are also newspaper articles, phone transcripts, and interviews scattered throughout which attempt to resolve the true nature of identity by offering multiple, contradictory personal accounts. Then, of course, there are the footnotes. These 500-plus footnotes, one of which spans almost three pages, gives the reader context and historical grounding whilst simultaneously being a source of self-awareness and meta-fiction.
This fascinating blend of styles, genres, and mediums makes for an incredible read. James manages to really encapsulate the often philosophical nature of life itself in this biography. When I first began reading, I thought of it as an intricately weaved puzzle for the reader to unlock and understand, but after finishing it, I’m more inclined to say that it’s like a key, solely designed to unlock the puzzle within your own mind. This is actually the most interesting, thought-provoking, and complex novel I have read for some time now so I have only one thing to say to those of you considering reading this book.
In the eternal words of Shia LaBeouf, ‘just do it’.
If you are interested in reading this book, you can find it here, at Dead Ink Books.