3 Stars - Recommended to fans of experimental literature
Publisher: Black Coffee Press
Publisher: Black Coffee Press
Guest reviewed by Kelsey Lueptow
Seb Doubinsky’s book Goodbye Babylon is a postmodern, experimental story with some fluctuating aspects of absurdism. It challenges historical and contemporary beliefs regarding literature, war, systems of ideology, and other power structures. As Michael Moorhead mentions in the introduction, “Seb Doubinsky . . . has an enthusiasm for the ridiculous.” That simple line breathes light on the instant and constant shock of form and content.
The most notable and enjoyable aspect of this novel is its shape-shifting form. At first glance from font to margins and chapters, this seems chaotic and unruly. In fact, the opposite turns out to be true. It is split into three sections with some unique storylines, characters, grammatical rules, and narrative games to different parts. Section one dips the toe into the stylistic realm of this book. It introduces wide margins, very short sub-chapters within longer divisions, and braided narrative perspectives that are unique but normal within the confines of this literary experience. At first it feels jarring, but then the rhythm sets in. Entering into the quirky style of this book also baptizes you into the world where dogs turn to fish, Wile E. Coyote is a psycho killer, and all the men are misogynists.
The physical absurdism of the first section comes from a protean, self-aware K-9 narrator woven into the mix; even more pervasive and absurd, however, is the terrifying misogyny in the male character’s voices. The only woman with a voice, a perspective, a purpose in life beyond serving men is, of course, the lesbian bitch Sheryl. Absurd. Even the dog hates the woman who embarrasses him by not letting him finish on her leg. The men habitually objectify and degrade the women around them—all the women around them. Through declarations of love, lust, and admiration, these same men demonstrate abusive mentality. Absurd, right? The writers are unsung heroes and sympathetic alcoholics. The military leaders are inspirational because they are ignorant of the true reasons for war. They are just doing their jobs. This basically sets up the rest of the story where even though the characters, points of view, and plots change everyone is just doing what they’ve always done. What they’re supposed to do.
The second and third sections reinforces the sensation of chaos by altering the formal rules, casts, and settings. This works to shift the ground beneath readers. The absurdism of the second section comes from some surreal dream communication and telepathy within a traditionally rational, empirical profession of detective work. The absurdism in the third section is the most pronounced: the ancient city of Babylon is a contemporary place that one could conceivably visit. However, the laws of murder, business, and literature are bizarrely linked in the city’s infrastructure.
Throughout the book, the seemingly chaotic and unruly form is actually highly restricted. Just as the margins are pressing the parameters of the page into tight, square boxes, the angle of the story and the information being pumped into the public is all restricted and edited before it is broadcast for consumption. Everything is viewed through the lenses of the criminal characters, the journalists, the film crew, the television screens. Accordingly, the brutally focused reporter Sheryl is the only character that transcends all sections of the book. With everything being so heavily filtered and controlled, the chaotic nonsensical messages that are actually carefully crafted.
Although there are incredibly intricate formal and thematic elements one could explore for days, I am giving this book 3 stars due to a few significantly restring features. First of all, the initial section is strewn with physical and psychological abuse of women—including a truly triggering rape scene. Although, as I mentioned before, I do believe that is constructed to move forth an ideological absurdism on which to base the book, it was very hard to read. I would assign it an explicit trigger warning. Beyond that, this book will appeal to an audience with very specific stylistic tastes for experimental literature. You really shouldn’t approach this book looking for a straightforward narrative plot or if you like to maintain your personal comfort.
Kelsey Lueptow is a mumma-writer at Diary of a First Time Mom and a graduate student at Northern Michigan University.