Back in 2002 I received D. Harlan Wilson’s The Kafka Effekt to review for The Dream Zone and decided on a whim to write my review in the same style as the book, but I wasn’t sure if this would be acceptable and so wrote a ‘bog standard’ review as well, sent both in and told editor Paul Bradshaw to use whichever one he preferred. Paul published them both.
So from issue #12 of The Dream Zone, two reviews of The Kafka Effekt by D. Harlan Wilson (which do you prefer?):-
THE KAFKA EFFEKT by D. Harlan Wilson – Reviewed by Peter Tennant using “The Method”
The Reviewer confronts The Book. The Reviewer is annoyed. He had thought that he was receiving a book by Harlan Ellison, a writer whose work he admires, but instead The Book is written by a D. Harlan Wilson, a writer The Reviewer has never heard of, and in such cases The Reviewer feels that inevitably there will be a very good reason why he has never heard of the writer. The Reviewer is, after all, a very well read guy, with his finger on the pulse. The Reviewer feels that he has been made a fool of. Someone is going to regret this. The Book is a paperback, 8.5 inches by 5.5 inches, with a photograph of the author on the back cover. He looks nothing like Harlan Ellison. The front cover is black with a red stick figure of indeterminate gender in the centre. The Reviewer notes the spelling of Effekt in the title. He starts to write “TYPO” on a sheet of notepaper, but then reconsiders. The spelling seems too deliberate to be an error. The Reviewer finds this intensely annoying. How can he be sure anything when the author indulges in such liberties? How, for instance, can he know that the title refers to the Czech writer Franz Kafka and not the American singer Melanie Safka? This author is setting out his stall from the start, an agenda that is subversive to the core, with even the sanctity of language unacknowledged. The Reviewer thinks hard for a moment and then smiles. He writes the word “PRETENTIOUS” on his notepaper. The Book has 216 pages and contains 44 stories of varying length. Some of the stories are only one page long, while the longest is 26. Some of the stories contain drawings. There are sections printed in block capitals, LIKE THIS, and other sections where heavier print is used, like this. Gloating, The Reviewer writes the word “UNEVEN” directly beneath the word “PRETENTIOUS”. The Reviewer is on a roll now. He feels that he has the measure of THE KAFKA EFFEKT and this D. Harlan Wilson guy, who has the temerity not to be Harlan Ellison. He imagines himself in a public urinal standing next to D. Harlan Wilson, each of them furtively staring over the other’s shoulder to see who has the biggest cojones. It’s time to rumble, for The Reviewer to scoop out and swallow down the raw meat of THE KAKFA EFFEKT, and regurgitate it in easily digested morsels for the delectation of the audience he envisages hungering after his opinion, only The Book is not yet ready to be consumed. Picking it up, The Reviewer finds that he can no longer open The Book; it has become a closed book. In fact, on closer inspection, the object in his hand turns out not to be a book at all, but something else entirely, an unknown artefact masquerading as a book, for reasons regarding which he can only conjecture. As The Reviewer watches stitching along the side of The Book begins to slowly unravel. The Book wriggles out of his grasp, as if imbued with a life of its own, and shucks off its book skin. Revealed is an oblong slab of what, at first glance, appears to be gleaming white powder sealed in plastic. The Reviewer panics, recoiling in shock, certain he has been made the victim of some heinous conspiracy. D. Harlan Wilson is trying to infect him, to pollute his mind with an addictive and hallucinogenic substance of unknown provenance. Particles may already have been absorbed into his bloodstream through skin contact and racing towards his brain. Frantic, The Reviewer tears his clothing and begins to claw at his own flesh, the skin peeling away in great sheets until he has ripped off his entire epidermis, intangibles such as genitals and body hair falling away in this route of the flesh. The Reviewer finally stands revealed, not as some flayed androgyne but as the beautiful woman of his secret desire. He turns to a mirror and the image that confronts him is that of a Miss Nude World finalist, or the actress Jenny Agutter as she appeared naked in the climactic barn scene of Equus, his absolutely favourite film of all time. An unearthly sense of calm descends on The Reviewer and he turns once again to THE KAFKA EFFEKT, seeing that it is not powder at all, but a cache of small gemstones, perhaps smuggled out of a South African diamond mine concealed in the bodily orifices of the author. Smiling The Reviewer picks up the bag containing these small but perfectly formed gemstones that are the stories of D. Harlan Wilson and holds them to her breast, over the spot where her heart lies beating. She closes her eyes, to dream of professors of philosophy debating in public urinals and body organs that speak to the constituent whole, of messages that are world without end and women with strange growths sprouting from their foreheads, to enter the mind-set of the writer, entwining reality and the writer’s vision until they merge seamlessly, one and indivisible evermore. Meanwhile, in a hotel room half a world away, Harlan Ellison lies abed with his mouth slightly open, and as a distant church clock tolls midnight he ejaculates into a tin cup.
THE KAFKA EFFEKT by D. Harlan Wilson – Reviewed by Peter Tennant
TDZ readers will already be familiar with the work of D. Harlan Wilson and this attractively packaged collection of 44 stories from Eraserhead Press is a fitting celebration of his quirky talent. Each story is self-contained, a world unto itself, and it is useless to demand logic from them, they exist simply on their own terms, as a causal chain of bizarre events and coincidences that reboot the world in their own likeness as you read, harbingers of an order of reality where the odd is the rule rather than the exception. Recurring images include people removing skin suits to reveal who they really are and body parts that possess minds of their own, while elsewhere there are allusions to literature and philosophy, ingenious wordplay and typographical effects. There are also moments of horror, albeit that kind of horror that holds us spellbound with fascination at the same time it repels, and plentiful flashes of humour, dark and otherwise, especially in my favourite story, ‘Stagefright’, which applies modern philosophy and literary criticism to the small matter of urinating in public. Exuberant and brimming over with ideas, this collection will nonetheless for most, I suspect, be an acquired taste, best consumed in small measures rather than gulped down wholesale. Wilson’s work is too idiosyncratic to ever win him a large audience, but in a time of brand name publishing it’s vital that people go on writing stuff like this, fiction that defies our expectations of storytelling and the written word, and does so in a manner that’s refreshingly off the wall.