Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Review: How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic
3.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended to fans of Indie literature & poetry
Publisher: Rose Metal Press
Oh my aching head. Who would have thought that a short novella-in-verse would have given my brain such a workout?! If you're anything like me, you'll want to open this book armed with an online dictionary and wikipedia at the ready.
I stumbled across Rose Metal Press awhile back, during an aimless perusal of some indie websites, and was impressed with their distinctive titles and cover art. Sniffing around their catalogue, I really liked the look and sound of Shippy's How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic, and was pleased when RMP agreed to ship it over for review.
The poem tells the story of Isaac Makepeace Watts, a loner who rents out the attic space above his landlady's house. We meet Isaac the moment a roof-grazing cow named Yazoo comes crashing through his ceiling, disrupting a ... ahem ... private moment he was sharing with one of his comic books. From there, the novella takes us through a maze of trippy flashbacks into Isaac's childhood and seemingly unrelated current events that eventually lead him to the hospital where his ailing father is being held.
Doesn't sound too bad, right? That's because it's not. It's actually quite good. It's got this futuristic sci-fi feel to it while, at the same time, appearing to take place in a modernized version of Thebes - the ancient greek city. It contains one of the most fantastical casts of minor characters I have ever read: talking gorillas that have the memories of Alzheimer's patients implanted in their brains, a landlord who buries singing christmas cards in the ground to confuse the moles, a mystical bar singer that Isaac confuses for a sphinx, and Oedipus, of all people, who seems to be on trial in the background throughout most of the book.
For me, reading this full length poem was like looking into a fractured mirror. And I think that's a pretty apt description of Shippy's version of reality here too - fractured. Time seems to pass in its own way, edging Isaac along from moment to moment, buffeting him across the lines of past and present... which lends Isaac this sort of otherworldly feel. Perhaps this instigated the title of the book? Isaac, the ghost-man who lives in the attic, building a reality for himself out of his broken past and crooked, unclear present? Banging around upstairs, untethered to reality, until he's forced out into the world by a hungry cow...
While I immensely enjoyed the cheeky humor and somewhat stuffy (yes, I needed a dictionary) poetic language of this novella-in-verse, I am well aware that this book will not be for everyone. I suggest you test out some of Shippy's poetry, available online on his website, before jumping in feet first with this one. Though, once you do, I would love to hear your thoughts on it...