Sunday, January 9, 2011

Blankety Blank (review)

Oh my god this is now in my top ten favourite books of all time. Maybe even top five. Yes, get ready for a chunk of text dedicated to why I think this book is so damn good.

Blankety Blank, by D. Harlan Wilson

Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria is the thinking man's bizarro. It's sharp, it's intelligent, it's weird. It's a very well thought out and well written book. Damn, this book is good.

Ok, so here's how it goes:
Mr Van Trout is an asshole. He's a pretty big asshole, as a matter of fact. He has a massive silo in his front yard because he's better than everyone else. 'Vulgaria' is Wilson's construction of a dystopian suburbia. There's the neighbourhood families, the dinner parties, the kids playing in the front yard, yet most of the characters are obsessively selfish. Mr Van Trout is driven by materialism. His silo is a landmark of his success that he has to rub in to all his neighbours. There are obsessive bodybuilders, powerless superheroes, and couples obsessed with fitting into the social circle that is the vulgaria of Grand Rapids. Then Mr Blankety Blank comes on the scene. He's a serial killer with a barbershop pole for a head, and he's a true splatterpunk serial killer.

But forget about that for now. Yeah, it's a pretty absurd plot, and it is highly captivating, but you don't read this book for the plot. As with most books I like, it's the style that gets me. I love a book that's got a lot of style to it. I love seeing an author doing things differently, structuring things differently. To me, that's what makes this book. It's a fictional memoir. It reads very matter-of-factly, and it often runs off on tangents that are not so much part of the plot, but part of the setting, the vulgaria. Throughout the book there are short articles on things such as a brief history of werewolves, or a brief history of ripperology, or a brief history of silos. It sounds pretty boring, but the blatant falsehoods make this book what it is. They all work in some form or another to compliment the greater product that is the memoir. The novel goes from chapter to chapter, capturing the vital information. The dinner party where so-and-so weren't invited, or Rutger Van Trout building his silo or buying a new car, or the recent wave of serial killings and cryptic-yet-meaningless clues from the Mr Blankety Blank.

This book is brimming with its own histories it feels like there is so much more to this book than the hundred-and-something pages. They watch television differently. They watch irreality programs. They throw parties differently. They treat their children differently. They are the product of a different time and place that seems like it's a reflection of our own time and our own place. They become obsessed over their own self importance and their own intelligence. Rutger Van Trout's son is named Rutger Van Trout. One family named their daughter Sheba. They also named their dog Sheba. Some characters go by several names and personas. It feels like this book is on the brink of becoming horrifically confusing, but even where there's passages of dialogue where no distinct speaker is identified, the book still reads with a crystal clarity. Everything lends itself to some idea or concept, lends itself to adding context to the plot, lends itself to this or that or the other.

It's a social catastrophe of self-importance and assholery. I can't really say I noticed a difinitive protagonist throughout the whole book. The parents are assholes. The kids are little scumbags. Even in the presence of a brutal serial killer, it seems the biggest problems the characters have is one of a mild identity chrisis. Wilson has set this memoir up perfectly. It's like, what we'd be like if we were compelled entirely by our own greed and selfishness and our own egos. I guess you could extrapolate any number of concealed morals or meanings to this story, especially since its ending doesn't resolve very much at all, but I think I like the idea that Wilson was critiquing suburban culture and their over-emphasis on materialist needs and social status.

It's a fantastic, weird, brutally dysfunctional read. It's not for all readers, but it's definitely more than its synopsis. It's more than the weird false-factoids and surrealism. It's a top quality cult book that packs a punch quite like Fight Club or A Clockwork Orange or Less Than Zero.

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