Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Book Review: Super Cell Anemia
Super Cell Anemia
By duncan b. barlow
This is a debut novel, but I’ve been following the work of Duncan Barlow the artist for many years. My senior year of high school I would travel all over the Midwest to watch him play guitar in the legendary Louisville hardcore band Endpoint. On the surface Endpoint was just another hardcore act but their emotional shows and genre bending records played with convention. Barlow himself has said it seems like another lifetime. Duncan also played in bands such as the Lull Account, Step Down, By the Grace of God, Dbiddle and my favorite Guilt.
The most important thing for those of you unfamiliar with Duncan’s musical work is that it was always powerful, original and deeply creative. So the when the news came that one of my favorite presses was set to release barlow’s first novel I was excited. The novel Super Cell Anemia proves in the medium of prose that Duncan Barlow is an artist that values creative expression.
SCA is about Giles a germ-a-phobe who is so electrified that he relies on an experimental treatment (involving biting copper) to deal with his rare illness. Giles has moved to Cincinnati to continue this treatment and be close to his doctor. As you read the book you begin to wonder how much you can trust the journal entries that often competes with the present tense narrative.
There are two great strengths to this book. The first is the subtle nature of Barlow’s take on the absurd. I enjoy the over the top whacky-ness of some Bizarro authors like Bradley Sands (also an afterbirth author) and D.Harlan Wilson Especially but this book has different take. Like a slow burn gothic horror novel the moments of the absurd are peppered brilliantly through the first hundred pages. From there the strangeness of the book expands like lungs sucking in a deep breath.
The second strength is the structure. Giles neighbors get stranger, his doctor goes off on convincing pseudo scientific monologues and most unsettling is the half man calico cat Giles knows is stalking him.
This is an unsettling debut in all the right ways. Effectively organized through journal entries, narratives from shifting perspectives, and chapters focused on the various rooms and neighbors in Giles building are an inventive touch that relates to the character nicely. My favorite was room 104 where Giles obsesses over the sound of his neighbors late night pisses.
Super Cell Anemia is a doozy of a character based Bizzaro novel. Excellently written and everything I hoped for when I started it. Duncan Barlow has transcended my perceptions of him as an artist. He is a great novelist who happens to also be a pretty good musician. If you like a strange read this book needs to be on your TBR pile.