When James Watson’s wife leaves him due to his sterility and his doctor tells him he has a black spot in his brain that will eventually kill him, he decides to make the most of remaining time. He blows off his job, getting fired, and destroys all of his possessions. He devotes himself to figuring out how to clone himself. His experiments lead him to success and to new love, but also to disastrous consequences for himself, his cloned son, and the whole world.
“This is one of the secrets of how the world works. In the moment, it all seems so dire. And then everything just…kind of moves on.”
Danger Slater’s newest novel is solidly in the bizarro genre. It could best be specifically described as absurdist science fiction. The story is centered on James Watson’s attempts to create a clone child, though it’s certainly not hard science fiction in the least with the clone’s fetus being kept in gelatin then in James Watson’s intestines. It’s told from the perspective of the clone, named Jimmy Watson Jr., as an adult, who is is dictating the story as an apocalypse is destroying the world.
Mortality and the fear of death is the main theme. The book opens with James Watson’s doctor revealing that he’s had a black spot in his brain all his life that’s consistently growing and it will eventually cover his entire brain and kill him. Despite the fact it could still give him up to fifty years left alive, it still sends him into a downward spiral of depression. The constant memento mori in his brain is enough.
It gets him fired from his job at Motherlove, a mega corporation whose building has a seemingly infinite inside, but in the process he meets the company psychologist Dr. Anne. When James begins his cloning experiments, Dr. Anne turns out to be the only one he can turn to for help. They end up bonding over the process of creating Jimmy Watson Jr. and Dr. Anne’s deep-rooted sentimentality makes her fall for James and to care for the clone child as if its her own baby.
Relationships in the world of Impossible James are incredibly complex and painful affairs. Much like real life, though real life doesn’t usually have your father creating more and more clones to be your little brothers. James’s desire for a child seems as driven as proving something to himself and to his ex-wife as it does the usual reasons people want children. It’s no surprise that the relationship between the two is incredibly ambiguous and ultimately not exactly positive.
One of the best aspects of Impossible James is how well Slater balances the off-the-wall humor and the serious existential concerns. For example, at one point James gets a screwdriver lodged in his skull that remains in his head for the remainder of the story. Despite the humorous image, it leads to a moment where an attempt to pull it out of his brain results in him experiencing a beautifully described ego death. This is the catalyst for him to begin working on his clone project.
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Impossible James is an absurd and hilarious story about family and relationships with a lot of heart. It tells a ridiculous story while exploring the difficult and painful aspects of romantic and familial relationships. It's an excellent example of what the bizarro genre is capable of in terms of storytelling and exploring truths both beautiful and ugly.