November 22nd, 2009

The Review of Contemporary Fiction

A Survey of My Failures This Far Reviewed
D. Quentin Miller

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The size of this tome makes one think of Wallace’s Infinite Jest, or Stein’s The Making of Americans. Boyer’s iconoclastic style would seem to bear out these comparisons, yet the subject of this book does not pretend to the coherence of Stein’s or Wallace’s. There is no single consciousness bringing the work together, which may be part of the point: the second sentence of the book reads, “I am so many different sorts of people it makes me want to stick my fingers in your mouth.” The surreal, absurd non sequitur here is a consistent feature of a book that is, ultimately, a mystifying miscellany. A Survey of My Failures This Far is seven books in one volume. Each is markedly different in terms of genre as well as style and subject matter. “Chewing in the Land of the Bonobos” is written as absurdist drama in the manner of Beckett; “Shorthand with Periodic Tenderness” is a collection of poems reminiscent of Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues. Boyer’s experimental impulse occasionally yields nuggets of philosophical wisdom or narratological insight, but a large part of the appeal of this work is musical and imagistic. Much of it operates according to the logic of nonsense: even individual sentences plunge us down into a new rabbit hole. In the central book within the book, “The God Game,” Boyer gives us some sense of his method in the form of a playful instruction manual about creation itself: “[W]e are using words in a manner similar to their original meaning, while simultaneously giving a new twist for our purposes. This level of involvement is post-culture creation, or rather simultaneous with culture creation.” Got that? This is Barthian postmodernism on crack, or one man’s insistence that printed narrative may not be exhausted, but it can be exhausting.