02 November 2007

Book Review: "Watch Out" By Dr. Joseph Suglia

This is a quick, but not too dirty, review of Dr. Joseph Suglia's novel, "Watch Out".

Now, before we go any further, lemme just say that, in the interests of full disclosure, I was a MySpace friend of Dr. Suglia's, and he kindly sent me a copy of the novel in the hopes that I would review it on Amazon.com.

Well, while I've an Amazon.com account set up, haven't bought anything from the suckers yet, so I can't post a review there for now. Will do so in the very near future.

In the meantime, for what it's worth, here's a preview review(Unintentional rhymes, especially when created by myself, bite the Big One and suck Dead Donkey Dicks), which am posting here, and on my MySpace blog

'Nuff bladerdash. Let's do it to it, as my dad would say.

"Watch Out" 's protagonist, Professor Jonathan Barrows, is a man apart, and deliberately so, as he believes himself to be the only human being alive worth a tinker's damn and then some.

He's a classic solipsist and narcissist all rolled into one extremely vain package, and is one to the extent that he can only engage in sex with a custom-made blow-up doll of himself, or become aroused by listening to a tape recording of himself reading excerpts from Max Stirner's " The Unique Individual and Its Property".

He loathes both men and women, considering them to be equally ugly and worthless, as he does all humanity in general, except, of course, for himself.

In this, at least, Barrows is quite consistent.

The novel follows Barrows from the end of his train ride to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he has an interview for the position of "Assistant Professor of Intelligent Thinking" with a Dr. Mendoza, who teaches in the School of Learning at Benton Harbor Community College.

But, the School's receptionist, Miss Grimmlager, has no recollection of either receiving Barrows' e-mails that he sent prior to arriving at the institution, nor of any scheduled interview with Dr. Mendoza, which causes Barrows to wait, wait, and wait still more until he can see him. When he finally does, it's not in the context that either Professor Barrows nor Dr. Mendoza would have perhaps found to be the ideal.

All that said, what is "Watch Out' about???

Well, I think that it can be taken as either a grotesquely comic portrait of both a grotesquely vain man, and the equally grotesque culture(There's a diner in the novel that features, among other dubious culinary delights, "Chicken-Powdered Fries"), populated by monumental idiots and sub-morons, which is, of course, how Barrows sees them, and the rest of humanity.

In this regard, it reminds me quite a lot of the late John Kennedy O'Toole's "A Confederacy Of Dunces", in which its protagonist, who, like Barrows, is fond of using high-falutin' language(His standard insult for anyone he dis-likes is "abortions", a term which Barrows also uses once or twice in "Watch Out" to describe some of the unfortunates he encounters), and who regards the folks around him as complete twats who fail to acknowledge his superiority.

In its intensely first-person narrative, "Watch Out" also reminds me of what little I've read about, and even fewer excerpts from, the early 20th Century Japanese literary genre of the "I-Novel", with its emphasis on the protagonist's viewpoint and intensity of feeling, which Barrows has, even if clouded by a defensive wall of self-regard and loathing of others.

But, at its heart, "Watch Out" is, in my opinion, a novel of the comic grotesque that not only takes aim at the kind of highly educated, very Europeanised, sort of person that Jonathan Barrows is(He probably would have fit very well, with his preferences, affectations, and horror of dirt of any kind, into any early or mid-20th Century German or Austrian middle-class environment), but also at a culture that, as he describes a prominent pop star whom he's about to murder towards the book's close, elevates someone who, by virtue of her very ordinariness, has become a star.

There's a lot of graphic depictions of various sorts of sex, vomiting and defecation in "Watch Out", and the author, in his foreword to the novel, even says so, rating the novel "X", even though that particular designation is no longer used for rating films by the MPAA.

This means that "Watch Out" is definitely NOT for those who prefer their description of such activities to be either sanitised, or depicted not at all, and definitely not for the kiddie set(However, even if a copy of "Watch Out" were to somehow fall into a kid's hands, I suspect that he or she would probably laugh mainly at the defecation gags therein).

But, for those of you out there who've cut your teeth on any of Kurt Vonnegut's works(and Suglia's use of axioms by the good Professor Barrows, plus the sort of jump-cut style of going back and forth between various incidents in the novel, is reminiscent of Vonnegut's style in these areas), or on Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow", with its graphic depictions of excrement-eating and other forms of corophagal sexual activities, sado-masochism, and paedophilia in that novel, as well as its own non-linear story telling approach, this will be right in your line of country, I think.

Are some of the depictions of the kinds of sexual and other behaviours depicted by Suglia in "Watch Out" excessive???

Sure, but, I would say that , generally speaking, they fit Jonathan Barrows' character and the situations in which he's in, to a T.

This also shouldn't come as a surprise, since Dr. Suglia himself, describes himself in his own publicity as the "Master of Excessive Fiction', and has proclaimed himself to be "The Greatest Author In The World" in that same publicity.

Whether or not those particular self-descriptions are wholly meant or ironically so, on Dr. Suglia's part, I'll leave up to you to find out.

At the very least, "Watch Out" is well worth reading, even if you don't like Professor Barrows, and there's no indication in "Watch Out" that Barrows is at all like-able in any sense, conventional or not, of the term.

As for what will eventually become of Dr. Suglia, Barrows' creator, as the back-cover author's photo blurb states is anyone's guess, here's hoping that he will be heard from again in future.

Here Endeth The Lesson.

Be seeing you.

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