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.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

17 responses to “Review of The Book of Freaks

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Solid review, MPB. Interesting book for sure, and you did a bang up job of pointing out the strengths of the book, along with some areas for improvement. I particularly appreciate where you point out a better approach (i.e. narrowing scope to strengthen the voice)- too often a reviewer points out a limitation without suggesting how the material could be enhanced, which diminishes the potency of the review.

    Sounds like a fascinating read- good to know where authors are pushing the boundaries out there.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Does MPB stand for: ‘My Pimping Brother?’
    Please say yes! Please say yes!

  3. Is there a Tod Browning entry?

  4. Jessica Blau says:

    Oh Simon of so many talents! Well done–I enjoyed reading this.

  5. J.M. Blaine says:

    don’t you hate when
    you see a book
    & think
    ‘dang, i shoulda
    written that book.’
    & then your thoughts
    are all clogged on
    how to do a new version
    & make it your own?

    the things
    we think

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