Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: The Talkative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger

The protagonist of Ann Sterzinger's The Talkative Corpse calls himself Johnny Jaggo. That's not his real name. Whatever his real name was is lost, because he's dead. Long dead. Everyone he knew is dead. He lived in Chicago, but whatever is left of that is buried under rubble. Jaggo had enough foresight to know that would probably happen and took it into consideration while he wrote his message for the future.
I will print it all out on the highest-quality paper I can find, and then cover it with plastic laminate. I got a great deal on the laminating machine. And plastic? Plastic might even outlive nuclear waste. So what if none of the current weasels pay me no nevermind, not even enough to give me a job at a decent wage; in this gob of hopefully unmelted plastic I hope that part of me will outlive them all. From here on in I’m all about you, anthropologists of the new dawn!
Jaggo decided to document his present time to preserve information about it for future generations. Specifically a few months from 2011 to 2012. He's more interested in venting his spleen than doing any documenting though. One could argue that's a far better way to capture the basic essence of American life in the 2010s. I'd be inclined to agree.

Jaggo attacks everyone in his diary/time-capsule. His asshole bosses, his asshole neighbors, the privileged, the poor, and his ex-girlfriend. Eventually his rage builds to the point he accidentally summons a demon during a drunken blackout. Don't you hate when that happens? Worse, the demon Bertram will only leave after he's killed one person Jaggo hates and one he loves. Fortunately for him, he doesn't love anyone. Yet.

Anyone who's had the displeasure of looking for a fucking job within the last few years will probably know where Jaggo is coming from in his rants against the people who do the hiring.
Who’s working in HR these days? Burned-out kindergarten teachers?  Planet of the assholes… at least I can enjoy thinking about the wonderful relationships they’re setting themselves up for, with ruddy financiers who love only whiskey and employees who lie on their resumes and everywhere else…
Of course, anyone who's ever had a job at all won't have trouble seeing where so much of Jaggo's bile comes from.
And the way things are going, I might as well have stayed a medieval serf. I’m writing for you, Future, because you’re the only people I can talk toward, but really, I want to go back in time, way back in time, to back when people didn’t fucking hallucinate that oi polloi could somehow be “free.” We’ve always been serfs for life, but we used to call a spade a spade. So I hate you, America. You sneeringly frozen plutocracy, with your false promises of a fair shot for the best of the lackeys. You’ve convinced the morons that you’re a democracy when you’ve got too many citizens to even make a decent empire.  
The blurb on Sterzinger's previous novel NVSQVAM (nowhere) compares her to Knut Hamsun. That's appropriate, because I was reminded a lot of Hunger while I read The Talkative Corpse. Especially in how hope and some relief from his suffering will constantly be provided to the protagonist, only to have it immediately yanked away so that life can shit down his throat some more.

Jaggo is full of hatred and anger, and all of it feels completely justified. Well, his fantasies of murdering his ex-girlfriend are a little excessive. But hey, he quotes Magnetic Fields lyrics while he imagines beating the shit out her, so that's got to count in his favor. Right?

Once things take a magic realist turn and the demon Bertram shows up, it becomes pretty clear there's absolutely no way this will end without blood spilling. I won't spoil it, but the ending delivered while still being somewhat surprising.

Occasionally, Jaggo's rants begin to feel a little repetitive, but Sterzinger's violent and funny prose keeps things interesting enough that they were never boring.

In The Talkative Corpse, Ann Sterzinger tears into the bullshit of contemporary American life with a mixture of venom, humor, and even a little empathy. Sterzinger was kind enough to send me the text in advance for a review and I'm glad she did. I recommend you pick this one up once it's released. I have Sterzinger's NVSQVAM (nowhere) on my shelf and I'm looking forward to reading that as well. Unfortunately for assholes like me who fetishize physical books, The Talkative Corpse is only going to be released as an e-book as of this writing.

For those who still need some convincing, you can read the first three chapters at Fine, I'll start a goddamn blog.

Buy The Talktative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger here.

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