“The book American Gods wishes it was.” --Despina Durand

Thursday, July 8, 2021

TERRIBLES, FOUR AND COUNTING . . .

 


Another Ishmael Reed novel! Why aren't people dancing in the streets?


They were just celebrating Juneteenth without masks, but dammit, the release of a new novel by the last man standing of America’s literary 1960s generation shouldn’t get lost in the interweb media shuffle. It’s also the continuation of his Terribles series, a futuristic caricature of modern America and an attack on Christmas--the season when bookstores make most of their money--and how it's central to western civilization. What more can you ask for in these apocalyptic times when transformation is the order of the day, every day?


Yes, NeoHoodooism is alive and well. It’s also Afrofuturistic, and Afrosurrealistic. Science fiction is just a small part of what’s going on here, and it doesn’t trip over itself like a sci-fi nerd stumbling onto the dance floor. It plugs into the myths that run our lives, our world.


It shows how even during the absurd Trump era, Ishmael Reed had no trouble coming up with material more outrageous than the evening news. This church and business-friendly dystopia would actually be appealing to some right-wingers. It goes beyond the Book of Revelations.


Not to commit a spoiler, but Nance Saturday turns out to me more than he appears to be.



In preparation, I reread The Terrible Twos and The Terrible Threes, and couldn’t help noticing that these books, like all of Ishmael Reed’s fiction, aren’t structured like conventional fiction. We don’t see the shootouts, chases, and sex/love scenes that all good bestselling pageturners are supposed to have. The Terribles are more like jazz (a blurb from Max Roach says: “. . . the Charlie Parker of American fiction”), and visual art with variations on themes and information-rich, complex compositions like those of Hieronymous Bosch, Diego Rivera, and cartoonists like Jack Davis, Will Elder, Spain Rodriguez, and S. Clay Wilson.

 

He did learn cartooning while writing his novel Juice!, in which the main character is a cartoonist. He illustrated Fours photo-montage cartoons.


And of course, it’s not static like a painting or mural; these tableaus move in long paragraphs and short chapters that set the skull spinning.


Then there's all those weird characters, all talking and acting out bizarre scenarios.


You can’t read these books too fast, you’ll miss the hilarious details, often several ideas on a page that other writers would use for entire novels.

 

Dare I imagine all the Terribles as an animated miniseries that send Netflix and Amazon into a bidding war?


Meanwhile, The Terrible Fives is in the works . . .


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