The Kafka Effekt, D. Harlan Wilson’s first book, is a collection of forty-four short stories (many of them so brief that they might properly be called microfiction) that take place in a surreal world where voracious genitalia rampage through the streets, hermaphrodites impregnate themselves, and the human body and the fact of being an individual become the strangest assemblages of all.
The soul of this collection may be captured best in the story “Room,” which is simply a pages-long list of the occupants of a crowded room, including bureaucrats, supermodels, plastic surgeons, surfer dudes and, finally, “an invisible man made visible by a suit of human skin standing by himself in a corner blinking into the maelstrom and then scanning the whitewalls of the room, just one more time, for doors that are not there.” From the vantage of his stitched-together man-suit, Wilson unpacks the minutia of such everyday activities as using a public restroom, riding the bus, and visiting the circus.
At its best, Wilson’s writing is startlingly bizarre and slyly insightful. The most successful stories of this collection combine dreamlike imagery and moments of lightning-like clarity reminiscent of Naked Lunch. Much of the time though, reading these stories one gets the sense that Wilson is doing clever things with words for no better reason than that he can – and while this may be the kind of “playing” with language recommended by the theorists who Wilson clearly loves, it doesn’t necessarily make for fulfilling literature.
By eliminating characters that the reader can easily identify with (the characters in these stories are, for the most part, barely human), recognizable settings, and conventional plots, Wilson forces his audience to connect with his narratives essentially as glorified word-jumbles; rather than reading for the sense of completion and wonder that we normally expect from stories, the main activity which these pieces demand is an ongoing and often arduous decoding of the quasi-philosophic themes which they conceal.
Because of this, Harlan’s work will be best appreciated by those who are versed in literary theory and prefer wrestling with Deleuze to sitting down with a traditional novel – and even then, in small doses. Call this collection bathroom reading for the pomo literati.
Mr. Wilson’s book is available for purchase at Powell’s.
About the author:
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