Monday, September 24, 2012

Friends and Other Stories of the Apocalypse: A review

We are starting on our international reviews, and will begin with two that are set in the United States, but are created, at least in part, from an outsiders perspective.  In this case a novel heavily illustrated by a Japanese artist.

A.P. Menzies' Friends and Other Signs of the Apocalypse is a heavily illustrated collection of loosely interrelated poems and vignettes set in the teenage dystopian world of 1980s Orange County, California. The illustrations, by Japanese artist Mari Araki, loosely fit into the story line, but are the most apocalyptic part of the book.  There is a free online (pdf) version of the novel here.  The author can be seen reading one of the short vignettes here.

A.P. Menzie grew up in Orange County, California.  Orange County is famous for bankrupting itself, more than once, using esoteric instruments to float their pension funds, and for being a new-commerce pro-Republican bastion of the Reagan Revolution.  Mr. Menzie segued his high school rock band experience into the life of an indie rock musician before going to art school and deciding to become an author.  My suspicion is that indie rockers net more income than authors.  The illustrator of the novelMari Araki, to quote her bio "was born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in Ishikawa, a suburb of Kanazawa.   In 2005, she graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She currently lives in Southern California, with her cats Nade, Nini and Rock".
It is a very short work, and with such a scattered collection of stories and artwork, it is a little hard to summarize beyond the general malaise that growing up as spoiled rich kids in the surreal world of upper middle class suburbia.  Although the young protagonists have a desire to accumulate extra spending money, it is generally spent on music, or snacks rather than saving for college, or some other productive enterprise.  Granted, the author, making a career out of his passion for music is probably being more independent minded than most of his cohort, the territory covered here is the early dilettante stage.

The illustrations, are the most overtly apocalyptic portion of the novel, displaying various suburban landmarks in a collapsed, post-apocalyptic road-warrior type setting.  Some of the illustrations were interesting, more thematic, than "realistic".  They were uneven in style, getting more simplistic in style as the book progressed.  I am presuming they are intended as the visual companion to the nihilism of the teenager's thoughts.

Did I enjoy the novel?  Well it is free if you download the pdf, and at 88, often empty, pages it takes very little time at all to read, so you have to factor in the very low opportunity cost.   It was slightly entertaining at moments.  But in the end, I am not sure what exactly the point to it all is.  I guess the complete emptiness of many of the lives of the children of the well off would surprise some, and from the glimmerings I get,the teenage landscape has not changed much from the '80s'.   The book has a rather whiny-narcissistic tone to it.  It is trying to be quirky and clever, but those are adjectives that should be earned.  Better adjectives for most of the work might be muddled, and pointless.  There have been glowing reviews (video) that don't appear to come from family and friends, so obviously some people connect with this approach.  Having grown up at the edges of a slightly earlier, East Coast version of this world, possibly I have been too close to ground zero to get enjoyment out of the setting.

I am not sure how applicable our descriptive (versus qualitative) ratings will be here, but let's make a go of it.  Ratings go from 1 to 7; with 7 at the top.

Realism is both high and low.  There are stories of everyday life mixed in with the highly poetic, one could say nonsensical portions.  Since the "1s", cancel out the "7s" we are left at the mid-point: a 4.

Readability is somewhat similar.  You have fairly straight readings on contemporary life.  Although, the author gives the impression that these stories are of a time and place, they pretty well fit in with self-absorbed middle class teenagers in many locations.  There are also fanciful sections that are clearly an attempt at literary obfuscation.  again "1s" and "7s", but in this case the extremely short length adds a point: one-point above the median: a 5.

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