A good lie ain’t easy by Nico Lee Reviewed by Tony Dougan Mega Dodo Publishing 2016 Available March 2017 from Amazon and other 'real' bookshops
Full disclosure. Nico emailed me after reading my book reviews on Amazon and my blog- heartofbalance.blogspot.com
As a non-professional writer and poet who has been writing all my life I am terribly needy for validation and recognition. Add to this mix the querulous vanity of the artist and the chronic empathy needed to create and you have a spaniel with a pen wagging his stupid tale at the slightest tickle behind the ear. So of course I agreed to write an independent review of Nico’s novel and only later was I once again reminded of the sheer bloody hard work that reviewing entails. Of the necessity of the utmost care. Three readings and a score of meditations later here is the review.
READING 1: Oh my God! Oh my God! OMG!
I am so courteous to exclamation marks I always open the door for them and doff my cap to any question mark I come across and flatteringly compliment its graceful art of balancing on the single ball while issuing an interrogation. Nico Lee has no such respect. He herds vast regiments of exclamations without cease. He summons legions of question marks to roll off the end of the sentence like lemmings. He uses trios of full stops everywhere. The grammar is beaten, thrashed, humiliated and genetically modified into strange hybrids.
The non-sequiturs head off into the sunset on a train of three dots…
What is this book about? A road trip ostensibly but a road trip possibly across the highways of the author’s subconscious?
Reading this book has been like spending relentless hours with a mildly autistic, overly well-read teenager who is hanging’ with his homies who have all misplaced their ritalin.
It’s like H.P Lovecraft sired a child with Jack Kerouac and then found Ezra Pound and William Burroughs had swapped it for their baby at the Maternity Unit in downtown Providence. The brood mare-the surrogate mother-being Poppy Z Brite with a sperm donation from Thomas Ligotti-(or did Poppy seduce him following a literary conference in Lallaland, Mississippi, mistaking the bookish horror jock for a promising serial killer?)
Who are these three brothers and a mysterious English girl hurtling from town to one stop town across a highway to nowhere? They are Boyd, William and I. And the girl is Sarah:
‘She laughs, sashays to the bathroom on chubby calves.
“I’m gonna take a shower now honey, y’all wanna join me?”
I follow, too tired to argue.’ WTF?
There follows a poetic discourse on burlesque involving a cross dressing John Steed from ’The Avengers’ then, fifty lines later:
‘When we get out of the shower Sarah puts on the glasses that make her look like a tougher Johnny Depp but still…nothing much, nothing much.’
It means the anatomy of burlesque involving John Steed in a corset took place in the shower!
I am a discombobulated reader.
There follows a series of discourses on film, politics and literature. One example:
‘I’ve only started to use the word ‘presidential’ as an adjective to describe my penis since Obama got in.’
And in conclusion: ‘…I bet George W. had a small cock, especially for a Texan.’
A rumination on Moby Dick is followed by: ‘When I first read Conan-Doyle (there is no hyphen in the name) I conflated the falls with the Rickenbacker guitar. Images of Moriarty falling to his death double-tapping the flight of the bumble bee.’ This is genuinely funny in a neurotic way and the book is full of such ‘comedic’ moments.
Then on page 67 Sarah drops a bombshell:
‘I…I think I might be pregnant…’
I read to the end like a dutiful digger of holes and start my review questioning the very premise of the book. My review begins:
‘The narrative mania rolls like an express train of punch-drunk narration that negates both plot and descriptive nuance. Who are these characters but ghosts that hurtle out of the author’s pen onto the page as barely disguised simulacrum-neuroses opportunities for the authors divagations?’
And most embarrassingly of all: ‘Where is the intellectual glue that binds sentence to thought? Where is the dialectic in the work that must drive STORY?’ OMG!
I hate writing critically negative reviews, because I know the care and hope and intelligence that goes into making a work of art. So I decide to sit with it for a while and read it again. For some reason the book has unsettled me and sits like a worm in my mind. Like a cracked mirror it is facing me with my own, earlier acknowledged, servile relationship to language. Why can’t I, like Nico Lee, kick it against a wall till it breaks? Why can’t I pull it into unlikely shapes until it screams? Don’t all the great makers torture their material until it submits to their will? Isn’t this how it becomes true?
And the kicker: Why can’t I be this original?
So that’s it. I eventually realise that this is a great little book! The divagation’s of the writer ARE the point. They are relentlessly sad and funny little sonnets and this is as much a work of poetry as prose weaving little descriptive dramas around a barely seen core of confused gender and sexuality, the fear of parenthood and settlement, death and loss and the growing sense of alienation in the post-modern world. The meme of Evil Knievel’s great and crazy Canyon leap. Get this:
‘Reading. Reading Raymond Chandler. Reading Marcel Proust. And Gertrude Stein. Reading Chandler, Stein and Proust. Will probably. Not definitely. But certainly probably. Reading them together, en masse. As a block. As a Bloch? Proust joke, unnecessary? (Yes).
I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. Reading. Reading in Sarah’s beloved old British Library. Or on a train, or in a hotel. Reading. Reading Proust. Reading Chandler. Reading Stein. Reading Chandler, and Stein, and Proust. Reading them all at once. Would probably. I say probably. Probably only. Probably only but here’s the confirmation. Reading all three. Reading Chandler and Stein and Proust. Would probably make you think in very long paragraphs, full of short repetitive sentences.’ Brilliant!
Reader! Read it! I urge you!