Monday, February 22, 2016

Extreme Lit 101

The Violators

By Vincenzo Bilof

Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing 

Pub Date: February 23, 2016

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

How do you review something like this? Perhaps it would best to start out by saying Vincenzo Bilof is not a new author to me. I have read a number of his books and they are all unique. He isn't the type of writer who plays by the rules. His style can be difficult for some especially if they are looking for the more linear variety that stays on a plot and doesn't try to push your button every other paragraph. I have enjoyed his work but I have also been critical, suggesting that he doesn't always seem in control of this writing, barreling forward sometimes faster than his words can follow his mind. But whatever he writes, he is never boring, never safe, always challenging and damn! Does he make me pay attention and think!

The Violators is his best novel to date. It is also his most offensive and shocking, and that is saying a lot. The novel centers on a young student named Alan who is accepted into a class titled The Art of Contemporary Literature. He soon finds himself in the company of a professor and his students who believe the pathway to understanding literature is through murder, debasement and torture. Doctor Julian Krang has a strong hold on them as they murder innocents and their classmates. Yet Alan's responsibility in this new class seems to be to destroy the students and the professor. He is an unwilling participant yet is reluctantly attracted to the idea and to one particular girl who encourages him in his role as destroyer.

Despite its strange and somewhat repulsive idea, it is a simple plot. The telling of it is anything from simple. Bilof uses pretty much every trick in his literary arsenal to write what is mainly a dark satire of the contemporary literary world. There are a lot of references and in-jokes for anyone who is aware of the independent publishing field, especially those doing Bizarro. Unless one is intimate with the Bizarro genre, most of them will go over their head. However, The author disperses plenty of clever allusions to more mainstream influences raging from Lovecraft to an especially funny dig at Harlan Ellison. Bilof is in many ways writing as much for the writer as for the reader. Yet Bilof's main influences in this experiment seems to comes from more esteemed crazies. The nihilism of Chuck Palahniuk and the slacker desperation of Bret Easton Ellis is all over this book. We know this because the author broadcasts it, mentioning the authors often and thus even parodying the idea of influences. It is a clever and perverse ploy that confronts the person that enjoys finding the inner influences, like me, with the idea that you are going right where the author wants you to go. An influence that isn't broadcasted seems to be Italo Calvino who, in If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, does a similar trick by telling a story while letting you know the author's intention and how it affects the reader's perception. And if you want another possible influence, I believe the Marquis de Sade is doing more than lurking in a corner.

Manipulation does seem to be a key theme here. Krang is a manipulator par excellence. He enjoys the power as much as he enjoy making others think they have the power and taking it away. It can be said all writers are manipulators and Krang and his proteges, and by projection the author, know both reality and literature are defined by perception and manipulation. This is a book about extremes. It blasts too many taboos and boundaries to mention. Yet it is Bilof's exceptional prose that keeps the reader enthralled through the madness. As Alan enters the classroom for the first time we are instantly teleported into a stark mentality by paragraphs like this...

A classroom without decoration, without windows. A classroom plucked from a maximum security prison. Chairs and desks bolted to the floor. A dusty desk in the front of the class with nothing on it not even a textbook or a calendar or a computer. A blackboard with chalk smudges and penis graffiti, a mushroomhead spraying semen-drops into chalk oblivion.

There's a lot of backstory and monologue through the novel. They not only provide more insight to these unlikable protagonists but also gives a philosophical base, albeit a nihilistic one, to wrap the story in. Yet it all become a blaze of fog and confusion at some point. If the point of the author is to make you uncomfortable and unstable, to throw you into a soup of intellectual despair, he succeeds well. Personally I like the feeling of instability. It tells me that i can be challenged and that reading isn't always just a spectator sport. In many ways, despite the grotesque themes and manic writing,this may be his most accessible work. It is grounded in the real world unlike many of his other novels whose bizarre science fiction/alternate universes battle with the unconventionality of the writing and structure. The Violators is one of those books I recommend very carefully. It is not for everyone and I am sure you realized that by now. But it is important especially if you want to see the extremes that art can take you for better or worse. If nothing else you can be thankful that this extreme is between the pages of a book and not within a classroom with bolted down desk and penis graffiti on the walls.

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