Book Reviews: Totally Killer and The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Arts & Culture » Books & Authors

Book Reviews: Totally Killer and The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:59 pm
comment

1991. The era of the original Bush adventure in the Middle East. The era of grunge and Bret Easton Ellis and “Seinfeld.”

Greg Olear’s protagonist Todd Lauder inhabits that bygone time like a cozy flannel shirt. Though he’s plainly seeing events from a present-day perspective and with the knowledge of a fully adult man, the voice is somehow that of a twentysomething slacker narrating from a couch in the corner of a cozily seedy apartment.

He seems, at first, to be an unlikely sort to get swept up into a web of murder, conspiracy, and high adventure—his focus is intensely personal. “I never loved Taylor Schmidt. Despite what you may have heard.” he begins. Taylor Schmidt, we learn, is dead. Todd mourns her to this day despite knowing full well that she was a soulless psychopath. He’s a well-meaning man, or kid—there’s some aspect of him that is curiously trapped in his era and story like a preserved laboratory specimen, something about his personality that just hasn’t jelled. By the end of the story, we understand exactly why this might be, but to say more would be to give away one of the twists in this wacky tale of capitalist aspirations run way beyond amok.

The early 1990s are fully evoked, a character in themselves. (“A Gulf War that we thought, in our prelapsarian naïveté, didn’t have the ratings to spawn a sequel. Oh, and the Soviet Union—the Big Bear, our Orwellian enemy for a half century—broke up. Just broke up, like it was a fucking rock band.”) Chronogram humor contest winner and Hudson Valley native Olear’s first novel is a dark, hilarious, and original fable, well worth reading. (Olear will read on October 3 at 7pm at Inquiring Minds bookstore in New Paltz.)



It’s a good year for Chronogram contest winners. Brent Robison, whose “Phoenix Egg” won the 2005 fiction contest, describes his new book of stories by subtitling them a “web” rather than a collection, and indeed they are a web, an intricately plotted and interlocking tapestry of human experience. It’s a tangle of happenstance and choices, of heroic love and alcohol-fueled rage, of the ways in which people try or stop trying, connect or fail to connect.

We meet a crotchety small-town judge for whom a brush with mortality sets off a wave of huge yet subtle emotional growth; a hard-working, intellectual young father and veteran who’s attempting to smuggle dope; families gathered around hospital beds and in kitchens. We see the world through their eyes, in moments great and small. In some passages, we are witnesses to shattering events that devastate some characters, bring about reflection for others, and brush past still others as peripherally as a moth’s wing.

It’s a feast of food for thought, a richly imagined reality that looks much like our own would if we could really see it. Robison has a lyrical and evocative style and a deep affection for human foibles, and wandering through the maze he has woven is oddly intoxicating. Yet, in contrast to the alcohol that makes messy so many of his characters’ lives, this intoxicant enhances understanding. It’s like taking a step back and looking down at the neighborhood from a rooftop, seeing the alleyways and garden paths and becoming newly conscious of the larger lay of the land, with a new appreciation for the symmetry and beauty of it all.

totally_killer_greg_orlear.jpg
the_principle_of_ultimate_indivisibility_robison.jpg

Add a comment

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Autumn Awaits: Activities to Enjoy This Season in Nyack
  • Autumn Awaits: Activities to Enjoy This Season in Nyack

    With high summer quickly transforming into crisp autumn in the Hudson Valley, residents and visitors alike are looking for Covid-safe ways to continue enjoying the best of what the region has to offer. And Nyack, with its diverse shopping, dining, and recreation set against a backdrop of the gorgeous Hudson River, is welcoming them with open arms.
    • Sep 23, 2021
  • The Intersection of Agriculture and Art
  • The Intersection of Agriculture and Art

    The Barns Art Center in East Fishkill Kicks Off Its Fall Season with a Harvest Festival and a Docuseries on Local Farmers
    • Sep 23, 2021
  • Design Destination: Field + Supply’s Fall MRKT Returns to Hutton Brickyards
  • Design Destination: Field + Supply’s Fall MRKT Returns to Hutton Brickyards

    Lovers of craft and design, rejoice! Field+Supply’s Fall MRKT is making a much-anticipated return to Hutton Brickyards, where its 2019 celebration of all things artisan-made drew about 9,000 visitors to peruse, purchase, and play on the Kingston waterfront. From high-end furniture and home decor to apothecary wares, ceramics, clothing, jewelry, and small-batch food and beverage makers, the three-day event promises to be a veritable showcase of one-of-a-kind creators.
    • Sep 21, 2021