Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Book Review: Swallowing a Donkey's Eye
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended: it'll blow you off your ass like a donkey bomb, yo!
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
This book knocked my fucking socks off. I found the subversive and satirical nature of the novel intriguing as all hell and chewed through the thing like ET on a trail of Reese's pieces.
In it, we find ourselves in the hands of an unnamed narrator who's signed himself over to Farm for six years in an effort to help relieve his mom of some of her financial burdens. Farm, as its name would imply, supplies City with food and relies on people like our narrator to break their backs for slave-wages. There are apples to pick, animals to tend to, and strange guided tours where City residents are escorted by people dressed in Chicken and Duck costumes on trams, where they can watch Farm's indentured servants hard at work. Our narrator, like all Farm members, smiles and waves (smile and wave boys, smile and wave) all the while counting down the years he has left before he can finally walk away from it all. That is, until one deranged Duck passes along the message that his mom is in danger of losing her home. After our guy checks in with his barn manager, he discovers his checks haven't been cashed and his mother's account has been terminated and begins to plot his escape to find her. Of course, he doesn't have to wait long, because Duck and her fellow furries revolt against Farm and our narrator makes a break for City under the cover of all the chaos.
City is, well, the city, and like any city, is crowded and crappy and full of assholes. City is where our narrator grew up. Through some incredibly well placed chapters, we learn all about our narrator's fucked up relationship with his mother, whose name is Mary, and about how they were abandoned by his father Joseph (because Joseph wanted to focus on becoming a priest and hello, loving the names and the religious themes that are buried within this story right now you guys). And now, too, it's starting to make sense, why our narrator would leave the relative (I use this word loosely) comfort of City for the controlling and demanding servitude of Farm. And wouldn't you know it, as our narrator enters City and breaks into his mother's home, which true to Duck's word appears to be empty, he stumbles into his father the Father, who has a proposal for him. His father the Father needs him to run for Mayor, and in doing so, father the Father promises that City will not prosecute (AKA terminate) him for running away from Farm. Welp. Looks like our main guy has little choice in the matter, then. So run for Mayor he does. And because he is a wanted man, during his campaign father the Father forces our dude into hiding under City.
You should know that City is built on Pier, which is like any ole pier, made of wood and suspended over the ocean, except this particular Pier is where City dumps its waste, both garbage and human - it's where the homeless and sickly citizens are sent to keep City clean. Father the Father has been working under Pier for years, caring for the terminally ill in a section called Home, where the dying are comforted and then cremated and released into the ocean. Our narrator is put to work in Home against his wishes, and spends time wandering Pier, looking for sick people to bring back Home with them. During these searches, he continues asking about his mother and will not stop until he discovers where they - City, Pier, or Farm - have sent her.
Farm were my favorite, and far and away the strongest, chapters of the book. In them, Paul Tremblay did a fantastic job setting the stage for this dystopian, futuristic world and imbued his characters with such fascinating and sometimes downright ridiculous senses of humor. He perfectly balanced the bleak 1984 feel of the novel with things like a monthly mating dance for the Farm residents (I kid you not, they even issued them condoms!). And the deeper into the book we go, through City and ultimately Pier, the further we are buried beneath the horrorshow that is our narrator's mayoral campaign. Yet through all of the bureaucracy and the dehumanization, Tramblay continuously pulls us out from under it all and gives us a poke in the ribs - an exploding donkey's ass, a golden-shower (I swear!), and some good-humored banter between father and son - to lighten the mood and give us a bit of a breather.
A great addition to the always growing sub-genre of dystopian, big-brother fiction.