I’ve been on kind of a surreal / absurd kick – with things like Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest – and Antkind by Charlie Kaufman continues in this vein.
I’m not sure I have ever read a novel written by someone who’s already a film writer/director (I feel like this usually goes in the other direction), but for some reason I had a lot of confidence a Kaufman book would be as good as a Kaufman film.
Like his movies, Antkind is a mix of slapstick / black humor I often laughed out loud at with a fearless stare into the face of death and human mortality.
You will either love or hate this. I loved the brutal honesty.
Here are some of my favorite bits…
What does it mean? From whence does it come, to drop unbid- den into my consciousness like a speeding metal bar? I recall that Molloy is a character in the eponymously named Molloy by S. Bar- clay Beckett. It is a book I have never read, even though I have heard of it sixty-three times, I believe, and have pretended to have read it many of those times. Could that be the Molloy Iam thinking of? It is a mystery. Perhaps I will find my answers there. Then I recall that when I woke from my coma, I asked if my name was Molloy. Molloy, it seems, is some sort of key to all of this.
“Do you happen to have a copy of the novel Molloy in the burn center library?” [ ask.
“We do not,” says the nurse. “Since this is a hospital, our patient library contains only books that take place in hospitals. So we do have Malone Dies, by the same author, which takes place in a hos} tal, if that is of interest to you.”
“It is not. Doesn’t Molloy appear in the same volume as Malone Dies and The Unnamable, though?”
“Yes, But we cut those two out of the volume as they do not per- tain to hospitals. Our library only contains books that pertain to hospitals. We could order it for you from Amazon, ifyou like. Hope- fully it’ll arrive before you are released in five days. We don’t have Prime.”
“Yes, please,” I say.
“Now it is time for you to step aside and adopt the attitude of self-loathing,” an attitude I have long been prone to anyway, by the way. Only now that it is insisted upon, I bristle. If I am to self-loath, I want it to be my choice, or at least the …
My daughter at eleven is barely competent in Gymraeg so will most likely not understand evan a word of it backward. I know she will live bored. And then I will feel responsible for her boredom, which will not allow me to properly enjoy the film. I tell her Daddy has to work, which makes me terribly guilty, especially when I see her eyes, hopeless, unloved, abandoned. This is not the case, of course. It is simply that I need to do my work. A child of eleven cannot understand how, as an adult, one’s very identity hinges on one’s work, how one would likely dissolve into a fog of nothingness without it. I need to ignore her so I can continue to exist for her. She stares out the window at the rainy day. Esme . .
Now I find myself wandering the stretch of 62nd Street depicted in the first scene of Ingo’s film. His accuracy is extraordinary. And although here I can feel weather and the weight of my body, I remain equally invisible as I traverse this version of the street. As a person of privilege and a male who has been correctly chastised and silenced by the emergent culture, I recognize I have no right to feel bad for myself and certainly no right to publicly bemoan my circumstances. Certainly it would result in more shunning by the very community to which I long to belong. But the truth is, I do feel invisible, And on those rare occasions when I am seen, I feel judged most harshly. Maybe this is simply the human condition. But I suspect not, because I do see people experiencing joy and adventure and community. Perhaps it is a flaw in my character, that even with all my advantages, my whiteness, my maleness, my heterosexual insistence, I cannot find my way to this place called joy.
What the fuck is wrong with everyone? Where has taste gone? Why are we adults watching yellow-tinted self-serious young adult science fiction movies about the apocalypse? Don’t we know how laughable we are?
I sit in my apartment and try to read from Wingfield-Stratford’s The Reconstruction of Mind: An Open Way of Mind-Training and stum- ble upon this:
“Thus we wander through a perpetual minute bombardment of impressions from the outer world, not one of which ever leaves us quite as we were before. The scent of a rose, the sight of an old friend, some ugly or gentle act, every sight we see, every sound we hear, are absorbed into our being and change us either for better or worse.
“Hello, soldier,” I say.
“How was the fighting today?”
“Tough. I lost five buddies from my unit. But I ain’t sad. They died fighting for the country they loved.”
“Which country you fighting for, soldier? I can’t tell from your French army kepi hat.”
“Slammy’s,” he says. “One hundred percent pure beef, one hundred percent pure patriot!”
“You have any message for your loved ones at home, soldier?”
“I love you, Mary Lou. I’ll be home to you soon and—”
His head gets blown off, and I reflexively jump behind the stalag- mite for cover. I’m shaking and panicked and I can’t remember the name of the woman he said he loved. It’s especially bad because with his death, his quote would’ve been a great end to the piece. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the cave. I’m pretty sure he said Marilyn. It’ really not the kind of thing I want to get wrong, because it could create bad feelings if his girlfriend (wife, daughter, boyfriend, thon) thinks his last words were to someone else. But I’m almost certain he said Madeline and that’s what I will go with. I drop the piece and a photo of the soldier (pre-head explosion, of course!) on my edi- tor’s desk in my brain. He picks it up, looks at it.
“Good stuff, Rosenberg. Now get the fuck back out there.”
I peek out from behind my stalagmite. Hundreds of Trunks hover, in sleep mode, charging their batteries with electrical cords plugged into outlets along the cave wall. They bob gently up and down like buoys. It’s almost peaceful. The CEO of Slammy’s, who it turns out is now Barassini in a ball cap that reads in braille, “Blind Faith Is ‘True Faith,” is projected on a gargantuan television screen, sound asleep in his office chair. His snores fill the cave through mounted speakers. I watch out for snipers, who, as any non-dead war correspondent will tell you, never sleep. Somewhere in the di tance, a lone bugler plays a mournful rendition of reveille, w seems odd as I always thought reveille should be chipper. Maybe