Let’s talk about Facebook.
Like most people, my list of friends includes the requisite number of half-remembered acquaintances who managed to creepily track me down despite the fact that my profile picture is Ben Linus’s face and I’m pretty sure I never gave them my name anyway. They’re the people whose statii overflow with cliched observations about the transient nature of love or heartache or whatever. They’re the kind of people who post their terrible rambling poetry on their profile as notes and get comments like “omg i know exactly what u mean!!!1!!1” or “you’re so brave!” or “UGH get over yourself” (and before you ask, no, that last one isn’t my comment… not to say that I don’t like it).
I’m not a fan of those people. I’d even come to the conclusion that Facebook notes were useless and pathetic by their very nature until yesterday, when I read Darren Scothern’s novella Isobel. Darren Scothern is an award-winning horror/science fiction writer who’s bringing back the Facebook note in a big way–posting Isobel in serial installments on his wall before publishing on the Kindle platform in November 2010. I still don’t quite know what’s going on–but whatever it is, it’s freaky and fantastic. As the book description on Amazon says: “Take a trip into insanity.”
Isobel follows our narrator on his confused quest to research a peculiar rock band–but that quickly gives way to hallucination, madness, blood, psychosis, blood, sex, and a mysterious woman named Isobel powering a wheelchair (or is she?) and grinning from under her copper hair.
And that’s as coherent as I can get. The fact that the narrator’s a horror writer writing in first person doesn’t clear anything up either. As he writes in the intro:
How much of what follows in what you are about to read is true, and how much is just fantasy, I can’t tell you. But, there is some of each.
And therein lies the genius. Like Mark Z. Danielewski’s famous House of Leaves, Isobel is a highly stylized piece of writing less about the plot than the literary effect: surreal, confusing, dissonant, dark, dreamlike (or druglike), and utterly, utterly disturbing. It’s the perfect example of cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling’s definition of “slipstream”–a quote, by the way, I have on my Facebook page:
“This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”
When done wrong, you get the worst type of postmodernist fiction. When done right, you get the horror/SF amalgamation of Danielewski or Scothern. And needless to say, it’s not easy to do right. I don’t throw around the word “brilliant” very often (unless I’m talking about myself, naturally), and I almost never call something I review “literature,” but Darren Scothern’s writing fully deserves both descriptors.
I’ve heard it said somewhere that you know a book or a story is “literature” when you walk away from it feeling changed. Isobel does that–in the most disturbing way. Who’d have thought you could get that from a Facebook note?
Reading time: An hour… two hours… It took me longer, but then, I felt compelled to read the story twice.
Recommendation: This is one of the best (if not the best) piece of indie fiction I’ve reviewed on this blog, ever. This post (if you couldn’t tell already) is an unqualified recommendation.
Availability: Isobel, along with Scotthern’s other short story collections, are available as Amazon ebooks (Isobel for $2.99).