Sunday, June 27, 2004

Rabid Transit: Petting Zoo, edited by The Ratbastards

My copy of this fine-looking chapbook, with the royal blue cover, crawled menacingly up to me today as I was dozing after a long bike ride.

"Every day," it said. "A review a day, you said, until you catch up. And you already missed yesterday. Review me."

"There's some question about whether or not what I do could really be called reviewing," I said. Nevertheless, I sat up and tried to collect my thoughts. Then I hit upon an idea.

"Tell me about yourself," I told Petting Zoo. "What is it you're all about?"

"Stories," it said, hopping up on a chair and cracking open a beer.

"Yeah, I know that. You're a fiction chapbook, six stories, one comic and some nice-looking art. But if you were to pick out a theme, what would it be? What is it you're talking about?"

"Stories," it said again. "Stories about stories, about creation. Take my first tale, M. Rickert's 'Art Is Not a Violent Subject,' which could be about a serial killer, but only if you're agonizingly literal. What it's really about the act of creation, of carving something out of something else (in this case wood) and the inherent brutalities therein."

"Oh, I see," I said, lighting a cigarette for my staple-bound friend. "And John Aegard's story 'The Golden Age of Fire Escapes,' about a mysterious and heroic Fire Marshall, is about myth-making, about the tinted lens through which we view the so-called Good Old Days."

"Well, maybe," it said, blowing a cloud of smoke at me. "But David Moles's 'Five Irrational Stories' is undoubtedly about history, of the revisionist sort. In presenting five highly unlikely and yet attractive alternates to the timeline on which we currently reside, he drives home the point that we exist in one of the most highly irrational of realities."

"You're right. And the comic by cover artist Jesse McManus, 'Heat Flute,' is about the commercial drive of art. A freezing musician comes upon a flute and manages to summon a heat spirit from it with his playing, which he then consumes to stay warm. A dark take on the relationship between the artist and his art, don't you think?"

"I think you've got the idea," said Petting Zoo. "Have you got any jalapeno poppers?"

While I made up some hors-d'oeuvres for us I thought about David Lomax's "How to Write an Epic Fantasy." When I returned, laden with cheeses and dips and other carbolicious things, I made my pronouncement. "Lomax's story is deceptive, isn't it? It's clearly metafictional, but in some ways it turns the norms of that genre on their head--instead of telling a story in such a way that it becomes a commentary on storytelling, he presents a commentary on storytelling which ends up telling a story."

"Quite correct," said the chapbook around a mouthful of stuffed mushrooms. "Light sleeper Elad Haber continues the theme in 'Ophelia and the Beast,' which brings together two archetypal figures from separate stories--only, by the time the story is over, you wonder if they weren't both in the same story in the first place. Perhaps Haber is telling us that the great stories all share a bloodline."

"Perhaps," I said, opening another beer for my friend. "Amber van Dyk's 'Storyville,' on the other hand, is less about archetypes than it is about the stories we tell each other every day. It's almost a prose poem, one that speaks a language similar to the work of Patti Smith and Lou Reed. The ending is abrupt and brutal, which sort of brings us full circle."

"So." Petting Zoo belched and loosened its pants. "What's the verdict?"

"Er. I'm not much for verdicts, really. But the Ratbastards have come up with another winning combo here, each piece entertaining and thought-provoking. It's well worth the $6.00, and probably more."

"Good," it said. "Go write it, then. Right after you give me a foot massage."


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