OR: Metrophilias

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #18:-

Consisting of thirty six flash fictions, each set in a different city and dealing with amorous activity, METROPHILIAS (Better Non Sequitur paperback, 100pp, $12) by Brendan Connell reads like a hybrid of Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology. The stories range far and wide in both time and space, so that within the pages of this book Thebes of a hundred gates rubs shoulders with modern day Sydney, ancient Carthage is bracketed by Berlin and Dublin. And each story is a gem, bringing the city to life with a few chosen words that capture the atmosphere of the place and make it live, breathe, while at the same time painting a delicate picture of love and its more obscure variations.

In ‘Athens’ Tiphys espouses his adoration of statues in the shadow of the Acropolis, and intercut with this are scenes from the modern day, with police breaking up a ring of statuary prostitution. ‘Jerusalem’ gives us an Old Testament pastiche, in which Raguel the carpenter earns his daily crust and gratifies his lust for amputees. ‘Moscow’ offers a chillingly matter of fact account of cannibalism, while in the charmingly absurd but poignant ‘Edinburgh’ a man falls in love with a letter of the alphabet. The male protagonist of ‘Quito’ is somewhat taken with women whose body parts are wrapped in casts, while the female protagonist of ‘Luxembourg’ is searching for a prince. In ‘Paris’ a streetwalker is engaged to gratify the predilections of a gentleman with a taste for despoiling footwear. All of life and love is between these pages, and enough fetishes and variations of the latter to invite comparison with Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, but Connell writes with a wit that eluded the Divine Marquis. By turns horrific and amusing, wise and absurd, these stories never give the reader a chance to catch his breath, dashing on to the next while we are still open mouthed at the audacity of the last.

If it were simply a matter of ‘clever’ slices of flash fiction, then this would be a book to applaud, but Connell brings more than that to the table. He is a master of language, an endlessly inventive wordsmith who writes with a poet’s eye and vision, so that each story is as remarkable and distinctive for the way in which it is told as for the content. He gifts us with exquisitely apt phrases that bring sight and sound and smell to the page, as with ‘wings beat against that copper epidermis, with snow of gray down’, and ‘trucks, spewing out black smoke, snorted along the streets’, or ‘an aroma of curry leaves, a spicy delicacy, a humid garden in which to lose one’s very senses’. And there are times when language breaks down, as if Connell wishes us to think that he is at a loss to express what he is feeling, is simply mainlining sensory experience, and so streams of words are all we receive, with no punctuation or sentence structure as a straitjacket for their meaning, as for example, ‘Dance eat devour snake neck stump bubbles with blood’ or ‘Taxis buzz bees on asphalt steaming miasma eyes masks not just for faces’.

And yet for all that this book is a remarkable display of prose virtuosity, there are problems. The preponderance of men with moustaches in the stories, while it may have been intended as a playful reference to the conventions of antediluvian pornography, soon grows old. Connell’s fondness for the ellipsis is something of a hit and miss affair. Sometimes it seems just right… …And then there are occasions when it looks so out of place you wonder if it’s a typo. (In parenthesis, we may be touching on a couple of the author’s fetishes here.)

And with that we segue into my biggest problem with the book. I hate to say it, but Metrophilias has the worst proofreading I have seen in quite some time, with just about every species of error on show, all the symptoms of those who have abdicated their responsibility to check work on the assumption that Word will do it for them. We get both US and UK spellings – ‘grey’ and ‘gray’, ‘fiberglass’ and ‘fibreglass’. We get inappropriate use or non-use of apostrophes. We have ‘lightening’ for ‘lightning’ three times and ‘puss’ for ‘pus’ three times. There’s a ‘eunich’ and a woman with ‘wane cheeks’ rather than ‘wan’, and at the foot of page eight ‘Alfredo’ is referred to as ‘Diego’. On it goes – ‘course’ for ‘coarse’, ‘alter’ for ‘altar’ ‘coach’ for ‘couch’, ‘burry’ for ‘bury’, ‘sleaves’ for ‘sleeves’.

I love what Connell is attempting to do with this book, but I hate that the experience was marred by this level of incompetence. Regardless, I hope it sells by the truckload, as the author deserves the recognition and the publisher can use any profits to hire a proof-reader.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s