Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Books: In & Oz, by Steve Tomasula

I picked up this book completely at random while looking for Anna Karenina (Tolstoy, Tomasula), which, believe it or not, the Mid-Manhattan did not have "in stock." I actually first picked up Tomasula's VAS: An Opera in Flatland because of the interesting binding (I don't know anything about Tomasula, but based on the looks of these two books, he's something of a designer, or, dare I say, artist), and the interior looked something like that of Danielewski's House of Leaves, only more baroque, less linear, and also more pictogrammatic. I think it would be fair to call Tomasula's writing experimental fiction, although In & Oz, despite it's elegant tall, thin shape, somewhat random interlude of simple drawings of billboards advertising billboards, and inclusion of a few pages listing the text "$1.00 $1.00 $1.00. . ." in repeated blocks, isn't all that experimental in form.

In content, interestingly, it somehow pushes forward and backward, resting and resisting cliche simultaneously. Characters are named by their vocation; our hero is Mechanic, a salt of the earth laborer who lives in the urban-blighted In. Mechanic falls in love with Designer, a wealthy, well-coiffured woman who designs auto bodies and works in the Essence of Oz building, a building so tall that it is completely comprised of elevators that go up and down all day. Designer's office, in fact, is in an elevator, and she therefore listens to elevator music all day. Other characters include Mechanic's new friends, Photographer and Composer, who also live in In, but who, as the simple narrative progresses, appear to be different from Mechanic and other residents of In in essential ways (think hipsters in Williamsburg versus the original residents of the area). Both are artists frustrated by their media who now make an art so alternative that it isn't easily consumed by the market of Oz (Composer, for example, writes music in registers that the human ear cannot hear, and therefore to experience his music, one must simply read the notation and thereby experience the sounds in his or her head).

Mechanic has become friends with them because of his recent crisis: one day, he could no longer simply "repair" cars; he was infuriated by the way people neglected to see the mechanical aspects of their vehicles, and his repairs manifested this fury. He welds doors to the roof, inserts radiators into windshields, and took the wheels off of his own car, which he then continues to use, pushing it around wherever he goes. Photographer tells him that he is an artist. Mechanic grapples with this. . . shift in identity and his affection for Designer, who doesn't much acknowledge his presence. No longer able to support himself as a Mechanic, he takes a job collecting tolls for the bridge between In and Oz (hence the pages of $1.00 $1.00 $1.00. . .)

It's a very lovely little book, poignant and curious and somehow hearkening to the era of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and not without a bit of Ayn Randism mixed in. But I like it. And I will now make a point of finding out who Steve Tomasula is.

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