D. Harlan Wilson took Sherwood Anderson’s idea for the 1919 novel Winesburg, Ohio, in which a fictional small town was populated by people who led detached lives, transplanting it out of pre-WWI United States and into a futurescape “metropolitan landscape of dystopian and utopian proportions.” An imaginary city part Wizard of Oz, part Phillip K. Dick called Pseudofolliculitis City or “Supercalifragilistic City.” Where the citizens (follicles) are consumed with carnage, an affinity for hat buying (bowler caps in particular), nonsense, name calling, nightmares and rocketpacks.
The novel worked on many different levels, primarily winning as a Science Fiction Novel not to be taken “too seriously”. Early on it is apparent that any attempt at a plot will be totally abandoned and instead replaced by bursts of experimental character and scene studies that at times seem juvenile and overly scatological. But in excessive of nonsense the writing somehow manages to succeed because Wilson is an extremely intelligent writer who seems to know how to write as if he is on acid while leaving out the actual acid taking. He refers to his writing style as “irreal”, defined as “not real”. It is darkly humorous, subversive, difficult. Because of its weight in fantasy the author is able to criticize our reality without sounding too typical.
I read most of the novel on the train headed to NYC (there and back), 221 pages, it was suiting because the ultra modern “follicles” that inhabit Wilson’s work were all there with me on the train, but instead of jet packs and Clockwork Orange garb, they sat bored staring at the industrial slum lands we were trudging through, wearing the cloths you are wearing right now. The point of Wilson’s work was apparent, that the world is nonsensical and fails to connect to the lives of the average follicle, and they are forced to watch out the window as everything goes by, or they grow a kitchen on their back and commit suicide off a tall building. Life is a confusing, surreal and full of constant unorthodox scenarios.
Sometimes Wilson gave me headaches. Other times I thought his writing was amazing, that he was on the verge of writing one of my favorite books. The problem is that D. Harlan Wilson is either totally “on”, or crashing and burning. But because the author writes with such a loose experimentalism it is hard to hold it against him. He is taking risks in his writing rather than standing behind the normal frame work that supports the more mainstream novels that people buy at Wal-Mart. He writes with a satirical voice that is constantly on the offensive against everything, the notion of self, the notion of media, government, and so on. Wilson abandons all discussion of race and religion, and keeps the kill count mounting. He is concerned with the same thing Kurt Vonnegut was concerned with in his earlier work, only Wilson uses less “lesson learning” and more Machine Gunning.
Yes my friends, it’s quite frequent in this piece of literature which is set up less like a traditional novel and more like a collection of short stories all bound through theme and setting, featuring only a handful of characters who reappear. Most of the 29 short stories are written in first person perspective by unnamed characters that we can just assume are random “follicles” that we would pass on the “slidewalk” on our way to the “Barbadashery” to purchase a stovepipe hat, our pockets pull of “dollhair” (the currency of the city). There is a presence of Law and Order and the city is ultra clean but at any moment a person might be ripped to shreds and viscera by the hands of a random attacker, the attacker facing no penalty from the Law. In one segment of the novel, a college professor takes a Tommy gun and cuts down a good portion of his class after the Dean of Students points out that the professor has an unacceptable murder rate, the lowest in the entire faculty.
In real life Dave Harlan Wilson is a thirty something college professor who lives in Michigan, so its nice to think of him machine gunning down the students who refuse to raise their hands. In a way, it’s almost comforting.