Ludlow Press, 2003 (ISBN 0971341575)
Some novels take a little more effort to process than others. They play on their own inward quirkiness to make themselves unique and interesting, if at times a bit disturbing to the rational mind trying to make sense of them. Such was the case with classics as diverse as Ulysses and Naked Lunch, and such is true of Tom Grimes's new novel, WILL@epicqwest.com. It takes a spiral staircase through the subconscious, bouncing around between short meditations and Burroughsesque routines that somehow come together to create a unique story about psychotropic drugs and Information Sickness. In many ways, this book reads like Burroughs's Nova Express or The Ticket That Exploded, with the protagonist battling cerebrally against this Sickness. However, it also could be described as Douglas Coupland rewriting Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground for the new millennium. At times, it is very bleak, but at other times, damned funny:
I think it's only fair at this point to let you know the conditions under
which I'm relating the tale of my epic quest to you. I'm in hiding. I mean,
not deep undercover. I'm in my bedroom. But, you know, I'm not exactly
I came home to die. Which is okay, which is cool. Dying. And being
reborn. I didn't understand this at the beginning of my quest to conquer
Information Sickness. I do now. Everybody comes home to die. Dying is
coming home. I'm no longer afraid of it. Only the leaving, which I will regret,
saddens me. But I now see it as necessary.
My psycho-pharmacologist(s)I had several, so I lose track -- I'm sure,
would disagree. "You see, Will," they said before I retreated to my room,
"we're not after anything atavistic here. We're not trying to get you back
to any noble, heroic or anti-heroic traditions. Nothing heavy, you follow?
We'd just like you to, you know, have a little fun."
"Can I post our session notes on the Web as part of my heroic memoir?
Writing about my quest may be good therapy."
"We're afraid posting session notes is a big legal no-can-do. As for the
memoir, let the pills be the therapy."
"Well, then I can post verbatim recollections of things that actually
happened to me?"
"Not under current international intellectual property laws. All
recollection is invention, Will. You see, you remember selectively in order
to make things fit your current point of view, which is always in flux. Any
comprehensible chain of events is a story, a fiction, something made up.
"I thought you only owned what pertained to my condition. If I make
something up, then it's mine."
"What you make up is your condition, therefore, ours."
This novel flows with scenes like this, becoming at times a lyrical juggler of flaming batons. The act plays well for a while, but at times gets a little tiring for a reader trying to keep up.
Grimes does a fine job of maneuvering between routines (or subroutines in his computer-age epic). Like a sci-fi author creating a new universe, he builds his bleak view of a monstrously pharmacological society, a society equal parts fact and exaggeration. All in all, a fun, if somewhat challenging read.
Recommendation: Like all great experimental books, the best way to read this one is aloud, alone, and with conviction. A caveat, however: as noted earlier, this book reads like Burroughs without the bizarre sex, so if Burroughs and the like have proven too difficult a read, this one would best be passed over. Otherwise, pick it up and give it voice.