Â As a preliminary matter, I am not an expert on bizarro fiction. In all honesty, I’ve never been able to truly define what it is, or is not. I’ve never been able to really be sure whether a story is truly bizarro fiction or whether it is just strange.
I do happen to enjoy bizarre and absurd stories. In fact, I adore them. However, a great deal of what people tell me is bizarro fiction ends up confusing me. I can appreciate good writing when it is there, and I can enjoy the absurdity, but often I am left puzzled as to what exactly the story is. This is not a fault of the particular story in question, or at least not most of the time, but is actually an indictment of my apparent ability to understand a majority of the bizarro fiction that is out there.
Frankly, I find a lot of bizarro fiction incredibly difficult to follow. I am not a casual reader. I’ve enjoyed books such as Infinite Jest, In Search of Lost Time, The Recognitions, House of Leaves, and many other such books that could not possibly be considered light reading. Still, a lot of bizarro fiction seems to me to be more experimental, very convoluted and complex in both language and structure. In a great deal of cases, it seems incomprehensible to me.
You can imagine my hesitancy when I considered picking up Foster’s A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space. However, the buzz I’d heard about the book piqued my interest to the point that I couldn’t refuse. My interest overcame my fears.
Imagine my surprise then when I found the stories in this book to be some of the most approachable bizarro fiction I’d ever run across. Consider the title story. The narrator lives in an empty, hollow cube. By mistake, he accidentally receives a kid’s meal instead of his normal order. Included in the kid’s meal is a “small plastic princess in a pretty pink dress.” Interestingly enough, the narrator starts ordering kid’s meals in order to get more of the princesses.Â The real fun starts when the narrator crashes around one night in his sleep, destroying all but the original princess. The following ensues:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Looking at the scene, these words slip through her static lips: “You’ve broken our children.”
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â This comes as a great shock for a number of reasons. Firstly, flattered though I am, I didn’t know that we were an item. Secondly, she considers the others her children, despite the fact that they are identical in every way. Lastlyâ€”and perhaps most importantlyâ€”I’m certain not ready for fatherhood.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â After apologizing for my clumsiness, I try to explain this to her. Despite my explanation, she begs me for more children, drowning my reticence in her greasy blue eyes.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â When I give her more, as asked, she becomes amorous with gratitude and sidles up to my thing, heedless to the presence of children in the cube. For a few moments, I think my dream of previous nights might materialize. Sadly, her dress won’t come off.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â On closer inspection, it appears that both her body and clothing are simply different aspects of the same lump of molded plastic. This is terrifically frustratingâ€”for her and me. Our honeymoon spoilt, my princess and I sleep on different sides of the cube.
I was thrilled. I delighted in the absurdityâ€¦and I could actually understand what was going on. It was bizarro fiction, but I could actually make sense of it.
Keep in mind, I am not saying that this isn’t good bizarro fiction simply because I can understand it. I have already stated that I am no authority on bizarro fiction. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything regarding incomprehensibility as a requirement for bizarro fiction. To the best that I understand, it must be bizarre.
Believe me, the stories in A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space are certainly bizarre. Consider the chimp that wants to be a singer in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Chimp. Or, there is always the young able-bodied woman who decides she wants to be a “quadriplegic motivational speaker” in The Ambition of Youth. If that doesn’t seem weird enough for you, perhaps you could try the narrator of Pit Fighting who, while stuck in a pit, remarks:
The Pit: accident or design? What is my role in The Pit? How can I make this pit a better pit? Is there anything beyond The Pit, life after The Pit? The light that escapes through the seal of the overhead hatch, faintly illuminating The Pit, and the periodic opening of the hatch suggests it, perhaps.
Even beyond appreciating the approachability of these bizarro fiction stories and delighting in the absurdity, I just plain enjoyed reading. I found A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space to be interesting, imaginative, and emotionally engaging. I may not have vast amounts of experience with bizarro fiction, but I know what I likeâ€¦and I liked these stories.
David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver.Â He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska.Â His stories have appeared in “Grey Sparrow,” â€œChildren Churches and Daddies,â€ â€œSplit Quarterly,â€ â€œCannoli Pie,â€ â€œC4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,â€ “Atticus Review,” “Brave Blue Mice,” and “Fine Lines.”Â His book reviews have appeared in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “All Things Pankish.” Â The web site dedicated to his writing can be found atÂ http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/. Â He currently serves as a reader for “Grey Sparrow” and in his non-literary time he works as a patent attorney in Denver.