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David David Katzman's A Greater Monster Hands Readers A Greater Responsibility

By Maggie Hellwig in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 7, 2012 4:20PM

A Greater Monster is David David Katzman's second novel. His first, Death by Zamboni, featuring an "anti-hero Satan Donut," sounds even more bizarre...if that's possible.
David David Katzman's second novel, A Greater Monster, is perhaps the most original—and perhaps the most harrowing—book to come along in a while. Welcome to a novel in which our (rather unlikeable) main character ingests a black sticky pill presented from the hands of a homeless man. In his altered state, he plunges into a world that only resembles our own to the extent that we can imagine. The reader might only be able to form a picture of a black hermaphroditic bunny-woman, an androgynous deer with a human face or a black praying mantis playing a tune on the harp, inspiring albinos to commit suicide. Aside from the recognizable archetypes, this is a universe that is nothing like ours.

Visually and linguistically, Katzman's finished product emulates a new brand of zany. This is a psychedelic-Burroughs-dream and an aggravated-Lewis-Carroll-nightmare, a world in which we must continuously re-adjust our bearings. Even the very words on the page betray us: the font is often presented as an image, the phonetics of accents are sometimes indecipherable even to the protagonist. Often an appropriate image is inserted; even a 65-page portion of the book is narrated through the artwork of Caitlin Drake McKay.

Katzman took about seven years to flesh out the novel. (It would take most of us a lifetime to think of all the characters and situations within these 369 pages.) The brilliance of his imagination aside, we must also consider that this novel is a lot to absorb. At face value, it reads like a drug trip in which the protagonist is endlessly searching for a winged lady. He is lost in time, a stranger in the world he has been thrust into, and feels that this mythological creature will help him to reach a revelation. If the reader is to take the novel in this light-hearted manner, it will be a rather frustrating ride—even boring at times.

The imagistic artwork in A Greater Monster was done by the artist Caitlin Drake McKay.

If the book is read carefully, however—all of the pictures analyzed and the structure of passages read accurately, often more than once—the reader can begin to comprehend its fuller meaning. First: Memory—that thing which tells the protagonist who he is—is the culprit who has left him (and the reader) so disoriented by this new world. As the aforementioned antlered being explains:

Every moment, every second you are a shimmering new being. You have the deception of sameness thanks to the trick of memory.

The concept of moment-to-moment renewal is tough notion for the main character to wrap his head around and he is often stumped and agonized by each bizarre circumstance that presents itself.

While the protagonist feels quite victimized by the happenstances, the reader comes to grapple with the fact that he is in complete control of this warped world—much like an author is the creator of his or her fiction. Thus, the derision of the title comes into play. A Greater Monster is taken from philosopher Michel de Montaigne's famous quote: "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself." Indeed, the creator of this world filled with monsters, right down to every word and symbol, is the most unique creature of all.

Yes, the novel is difficult to read at times. Yes, you will have to read certain passages more than once and often read them in various ways. Of course, your face will start to hurt from the perplexed look you'll be wearing over the duration of the book. However, you will be refreshed with new characters and situations every few pages--all of which will be other-worldly. You will stumble onto sparks, which will snowball into a catharsis more than once. Most of all, you will be challenged as both a reader and a thinker. If the pros outweigh the cons for you, then David David Katzman might just be your new favorite author.