About three years ago, I started reading Bizarro Fiction. I had read several titles and was already hooked on the genre by the time I read G. Arthur Brown’s Kitten, a book released by Eraserhead Press under its New Bizarro Author Series banner.
I can safely say that reading that book was a major moment in my early writing career. That book was everything I’d always wanted to read. It was surreal, weird, entertaining, and kept you reading by its sheer weirdness and unpredictability. It read as something really serious and philosophical (and it was), but you felt that you were reading something that anyone could enjoy without reservations. It wasn’t pretentious.
Now, G. Arthur Brown brings us his second book, Governor of the Homeless, a novella from the new press Psychedelic Horror Press.
Wilson is a man on trial for killing the Governor of the Homeless in a back alley in Bum Town. Even though the Governor is sitting right there in the mock courtroom, openly, for anyone to see. Wilson doesn’t seem to realize that. To the increasingly paranoid, unnamed narrator, Wilson had just killed an ordinary man, a nobody who wouldn’t be missed, and therefore had committed no serious crime. But the kangaroo court is extended, much for the narrator’s disbelief.
Bum Town reads like a classic dystopian city: A shanty town, filled with the undesired members of society, living miserable lives under the shadow of the City, the place where ‘normal’ people live. And Bum Town has its ruler, the eponymous Governor.
We don’t get a lot about the Governor, and that’s expected from the very first chapter of this little book. The narrator is obviously unreliable. His descent into madness and paranoia is orchestrated beautifully by Brown, who has the ability to write the weird and the downright crazy with such ease and skill.
“I cannot fault him for losing his grip on reality, for what is reality if not a consistent adherence to rules?”
This sentence captures the themes of the book. Reading this requires a complete detachment from reality and normal expectations that can appear while reading a book. And yes, one could say that this expectation of detachment is a prerequisite to reading any Bizarro Fiction book, but this one is something else. There’s no discernible (at least not to me) dream causality here. Things happen as expected consequences of certain actions. It’s the actions themselves that are what make this a Bizarro book.
“But here’s the interesting thing: when I was in school they showed us all these pictures of this thing called Archaeopteryx. Sort of a lizard with feathery wings. Now, they told us that it couldn’t actually fly, but it could glide. How they knew this, I’m not sure. Not like they had the Zapruder footage of Wilbur and Orville Archaeopteryx trying to get off the ground.”
This passage shows us that we are living in our world. Most surreal dystopias tend to remove any popular culture references, creating an air of isolation. We see it in some Thomas Ligotti stories, as well as David Lynch’s Eraserhead. But Brown brings pop culture into this weird, sepia-toned world. It creates a strange sensation, of mixed familiarity, something I can’t quite explain.
“It’s funny how in dreams you get not only the impression of something, but an impression of that impression, and you can dream the past at the same time, or even after, the present”
I think this line captures the entirety of Governor of the Homeless. The references on the book cause on us, the reader, an impression. But the world portrayed is itself so weird and gray and unfamiliar, that we only get the impression of an impression. And, in my mind, this effect is impressive, and achieved through masterful crafting.