Jamie Iredell’s The Book of Freaks serves as a post-modern encyclopaedia of sorts; a collection of observations on the varied populations and situations of the world in the 21st century, arranged, conveniently, alphabetically. It’s much in the vein of the better-known Stuff White People Like, although without the overarching tongue-in-cheek approach. Rather, Iredell has created a mixed bag of sorts: some of the articles are dripping with snark and subjectivity (ENVIRONMENTALISTS: These humans have taken a political and ethical point of view and transformed it into a religion), while some verge on the meditative (LEGLESS MAN: Today you crossed your legs while eating your sandwich, while the legless man-clearly a veteran:tattoes, grizzled gray beard-chewed along jabbering at you).
Iredell’s gear-shifting throughout the book doesn’t come entirely smoothly; just as one article seems to set a smirking, hipper-than-thou tone, the next changes tack and moves in a completely different direction. Ultimately, the result is one of disjuncture – a better approach for Iredell to take may have been to sacrifice some of the width of his ambitions and instead hold to one definitive voice.
However, as a product of the times, The Book of Freaks works. Its broad range covers enough bases to suggest a picture of an entire world where every truth can be categorised by a single, knowing narrator. It was nice to see Iredell, in a burst of self-referentialism, includes the title pages of his own work within his catalogue. It’s an enjoyable nod from a writer who hasn’t moved too far beyond himself into the conceit of being too clever for his own good (although some of the more pointed works veer a little close to that terrain, at times).
The Book of Freaks reaches its true potential in the moments when it becomes a little more poetic and forgiving in its treatment of its subjects than not – Iredell’s voice as definer comes in a little too strongly, perhaps even bitterly, when handling subjects he seems to be trying to insult. However, in moments when his presence is very much in the background, his definitions cross into more lyrical (and satisfying) territory – (WHAT WE CALL LIFE: In life people stand on beaches under white clouds. They all stare at the clouds, though there’s nothing about the clouds that makes a discernable shape or could be in any way interesting).
Fortunately, to Iredell’s way of looking at the world, there should be no shortage of material for follow-up volumes.