Patchouli Morning

The metaphysical impishness, erudition and breadth of vision in this sexually charged roman à clef is Smith at his most vulnerable. We recoil in horror as he recounts a series of heartbreaking trysts that recall — then exceed — Flaubert in both emotional power and literary merit. Curiously, the novel stagnates for the first twenty pages with inane references to pedestrian, adolescent love themes directed toward a sophomore called only “Emily,” but it then soars for the remaining 344 pages with a narrative and vision as taut and authentic as anything in the Western canon since forever. And while the inclusion of the lyrics to Metallica’s “Fade to Black” in the prologue offers little in the way of relevance, one is reminded that — like black holes — not everything should be easily understood.

Lachrymose in Transylvania

Intoxicating, tantalizing, always potentially violent, this captivating tome helps define not just the current state of Inuit America, but the world at large. It is a book so erudite and well wrought that its aura somehow illuminates the rest of Smith’s oeuvre, sustaining his post-apocalyptic vision. And although Smith asks a lot of his readers (would Dracula really show up for the soap-box derby, uninvited?), we are rewarded for our efforts later in this tour de force when it becomes clear everything has been a dream — but not in that hokey, St. Elsewhere way — in that way that only Smith, at the height of his creative powers, can manufacture so convincingly.

Da Nang Disco

Can anyone write about the horrors of the Vietnam War like Smith? Maybe Tim O’Brien, but does O’Brien dare to set his narrative against the backdrop of a colonial discotheque struggling to keep the party going during the Tet Offensive? No. Smith weaves his flawless prose seamlessly through the trenches and pop hits of 1968 Vietnam while exposing the artifice and shady underbelly that was the 2001 Little League World Series. The daring cadenza that begins the novel is, as often seems to be the case with Smith’s first chapters, categorically unreadable — but not in the sense that they are ill-conceived or poorly written — they are simply too much to bear, like much of Joyce. The Emily character makes a dramatic entrance, screams, then leaves the novel for good. Again. It’s so haunting! Maybe I should just come clean here and admit that I am not smart enough to comprehend what Smith is getting at, usually.

Toggle & Yaw

Just when you get the feeling that Smith may nave reached the limits of his vast fecundity, he treats us to a space novel like no other. To call Toggle & Yaw a “space novel,” though, is tantamount to calling The Bible a “sand novel.” The book begins quite predictably with a string of complaints (as is becoming Smith’s modus operandi) related to a character named “Emily,” who appears quite substantially in earlier chapters then disappears without a whimper. What are we to think of this “Emily?” Who really cares, when, later in the novel, Toggle (a Type A cosmonaut from the future) explains to Yaw (a robot/fire hydrant with a history of drug abuse), “Thy sample science programs, like deep surveys and slitless grism spectroscopy of exo-planet transit, will compromise ye olde mission’s capabilities in near-infrared, m’lady. Anon.” Can you think of another writer who can meld flawless Victorian patois with deep-space discourse like Smith? This reviewer cannot.

The Rending

If it can be said of any writer living today that he/she has fused lyric virtuosity with a kind childlike aplomb, that writer must be Mr. Smith. The Rending begins with the tale of a particularly devastating train accident, I think. Of course, Smith knows that, in fiction, it’s often what’s “not there” that lends to the visceral beauty inherent in certain exchanges and turns of phrase. Indeed, The Rending, Smith’s fifth and finest book thus far, is an artistic blitzkrieg on literary expectation and norms, as the novel, coming in at just under 600 pages, features not a single word. If Kafka, Proust, McCullers and Nabokov pooled their best work and created a kind of “Dream Team” book, one wonders whether the ensuing scribbles could even be put up for consideration next to Smith’s magnum opus. The culminate car-chase through the byzantine streets of Caligula’s Rome recalls I, Claudius, with lasers. Not-to-be-perused.

Emily

On first read, one wonders whether Mr. Smith actually typed the word “Emily” 2,011,740 times, or if he in fact used the “cut-and-paste” option on his PC. Either way, this paean to lost love compels the reader to ask: “Is this The Great American Novel?” or perhaps, “What’s your return policy?”

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Described as an "up-and-coming humorist" by Esquire, TYLER STODDARD SMITH's works have been featured in: The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes, The Best American Fantasy, Esquire, Meridian, Pindeldyboz, The Big Jewel, Yankee Pot Roast, Word Riot, Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle, and McSweeney's, among others. Visit his website at: http://tylerstoddardsmith.wordpress.com

19 responses to “Anticipated Reviews Of My Unfinished Novels”

  1. Very, very funny. Love the “sand novel” description, especially, and the oxymoronic perfection of “captivating tome.”

    I suggest that for his next novel, Mr. Smith attempts to write 700 pp without using the letters E, M, I, L, or Y.

    Thanks for making me laugh. I love absurdity in all its forms.

  2. Thank OU, Zabth! Uch apprcatd!

  3. Arielle Bernstein says:

    This made my day.

  4. Richard Cox says:

    Wherefore art thou, Emily?

  5. Zara Potts says:

    God, you make me laugh Tyler.

    “Can you think of another writer who can meld flawless Victorian patois with deep-space discourse like Smith? This reviewer cannot.”

    Brilliant.

  6. Some really funny lines in here Tyler. A well-deserved skewering of the intolerable language of modern reviewing. I feel no discordance at all in the fact that my 1987 spec script Toggle & Ham, a star vehicle for Tom Hanks and a very cute bulldog, has been appropriated here. Likewise the way you have clearly borrowed from my straight-to-Canadian-ebookk novel Patchouli vs. Kramer.

    • Oh, boy. I’m in trouble now. I thought my guys bought the rights to Toggle and Ham from your guys…how do we settle this? Epee? Kaipoeira battle? Tell you what, I’ll muscle Katzenberg to give you the role of Toggle, while I’m afraid the role of Yaw has already been filled by a Saskatchewanese pump jack.

      The vicissitudes of the lit. biz, man….Thanks for the comment!

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    “The Emily character makes a dramatic entrance, screams, then leaves the novel for good. Again. It’s so haunting! Maybe I should just come clean here and admit that I am not smart enough to comprehend what Smith is getting at, usually.”

    Sir.

    You have raised the bar.

    I want to read all of these books, now, forever.

    • Thank you, Simon. You’re copy of The Rending should have been there a year ago, though….I sent copies to all TNBers. Oh, and in addition to no words, there is also no flap jacket or “cover,” per se (perhaps this is why you missed it?), although I have a great blurb from the spectre of Michiko Kakuatani’s dead cat “Sprinkles,” but it, too, is writ in cat urine, so you have to put the thing under a blacklight.

  8. Greg Boose says:

    And so it goes.

    Promise me that you’ll let me blurb a published book of yours one day.

  9. LOVED this. My favorite, hands-down, was Da Nang Disco. When are you coming back to Chicago?

  10. Thanks, Claire! We’re actually coming for a wedding in Rocktober. Would love to grab a lunch, coffee, homeless person, etc.

  11. Slade Ham says:

    Goddammit, Tyler. Now I have to go try to be funny again. This line:

    To call Toggle & Yaw a “space novel,” though, is tantamount to calling The Bible a “sand novel.”

    Awesome.

  12. Marni Grossman says:

    So much good stuff. Favorite line? “Does O’Brien dare to set his narrative against the backdrop of a colonial discotheque struggling to keep the party going during the Tet Offensive?”

    Sounds like a recipe for true Art.

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