Review: "Watch Out" by Joseph Suglia
Monday, June 11, 2007
ISBN 1891855778; Paperback, 210 pages
Suglia hopes to make an impression with his novel "Watch Out". "Watch out" is the refrain, throughout, a heightened state of alert pumped into the brain stem with no explanation and no true context. "Watch Out" is the story, or several stories, of Professor Jonathan Barrows, a cold, violent, self-pleasuring egoist.
The world of Jonathan Barrows is grotesque, stupid, and, like Jonathan Barrows, focused on Jonathan Barrows. While it is not rare for characters to have an exceptionally large ego, in this case Jonathan's view of the world is largely corroborated by the world's responses to him--even taking into account the self-colored glasses we're reading through.
Jonathan Barrows is the pinnacle of humanity--so far removed that he, at times, considers himself not a member of humanity at all; while at other times he considers himself the only human. We join him on a trip to a small college town where he is to have an interview, and the first half of the book follows that arc--from the filth-ridden train that introduces us to Jonathan's contempt all the way through to a FINAL SHOWDOWN ORGY with his interviewer.
The latter half of the book is comprised of increasingly violent and surreal vignettes of Jonathan's formative years, plus one farewell send-off to cap things--the only indication in the whole work that there might be some semblance of law and order in the world represented.
Jonathan's incessant auto-arousal grows tiresome, but is balanced with the surreal abusement and dislivingmentation of a number of other parties. Suglia pushes the human body's natural resilience to absurd and engrossing dimensions with his vivid descriptions.
The language used is colorful and clever--Suglia is a skilled user and playful inventor of language, and the inventions intensify the unsettling mindset, the disturbitude of it all. I laughed frequently while reading, either at a turn of phrase or at the audacity of the character. Laughter was both glee and surprise, though some scenes gnawed on my brain and others verged on making me uncomfortable.
"Watch Out", with its detached violence, surreallity, and repetition, puts me in mind of a modern pop culture riff on JG Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibition". Finishing the book left me slightly disconnected from the world, as my mind struggled to come to terms with what I'd just read. It had no real denouement, with the first climax coming halfway through and subsequent climaxes coming more quickly until it just sort of withered off at the end. Watch Out!
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