July 15th, 2011

The Collagist

A review of A D Jameson’s Amazing Adult Fantasy
Peter Fontaine

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Amazing Adult Fantasy, A D Jameson’s debut collection of fiction, asks us to think carefully, as adults, about our childhoods. Not only our childhoods, however, but the nature of fiction and fictions, the imagination, and our relationship with them as we ‘grow up’ and supposedly “put away childish things.” The epigram that starts the collection, Paul speaking to the Corinthians, is one of the many clues Jameson gives us for thinking about the book, for understanding the sometimes contradictory ideas that govern its form and his approach to familiar and even iconic characters from our youth.

 

A number of these stories have titles that will resonate immediately with an audience of thirty to forty-two-year-olds: “Oscar the Grouch,” “Indian Jones,” “Big Bird and Snuffy,” “How to Draw the Thing,” “Our Continuing Mission,” and “A New Hope.” Other story titles point to a preoccupation with childhood and pop culture trappings, such as “Ota Benga Episode Guide: Season 3,” “My Parents Tried to Make Me More Popular,” “7 Movie Reviews,” “Shaggy Creatures,” “More About Ninjas,” and “Bonnie Raitt, I’m Coming to See You.” All of these stories appear in the first section of the book, which begins with the one page short-short titled “Fiction.” The second half of the book is titled “The Solar Stories,” and features less penetrable, though still resonant, titles, including: “Science Fiction,” “Moon Rock,” “Buzz Aldwin,” and “Amazing Adult Fantasy,” the titular story that ends the collection. This latter section digs further back in time to the fictions that shaped children a generation before; the space race, astronomy, and even old EC Comics about alien worlds and scantly clad astronaut women become the means by which we can recognize and approach these stories.

 

In spite of the resonance these titles and their subjects have with an ideal audience who grew up and loved these shows, films, and comics, they are not mere fan fiction or idle exercises in nostalgia. Jameson pulls the rug right out from under his readers from the beginning and never lets up challenging us with these stories. Oscar the Grouch is the name of a character in the second story, but he only bears coincidental resemblance to the gruff, green muppet on “Sesame Street.” Instead, he’s protean, starting out as a poet and radio announcer who is newly dead, but becoming a shy, introverted young man, and then transforming again into a caustic Beat who gathers an ironic, Andy-Warhol-type following. Even the first person narrator of the story changes with Oscar, starting out a sickly young boy, then a harassed teenage woman, and finally a teacher. In “A New Hope,” Luke sports a mustache and spends inappropriate amounts of time “training” Han and Leia’s twin children. Leia becomes an ice princess, C-3PO becomes a glorified nursemaid, R2-D2 is relegated to little more than Luke’s bartender, and Chewbacca appears randomly only to gorge gluttonously on enormous amounts of food. Names like Riker, Geordi, Data, and Troi jump out in the pages of “Our Continuing Mission,” but the actual characters bear only a passing resemblance: Data’s a bully, Troi smokes, Geordi’s a voyeur, and Riker crashes 13 shuttlecraft while at Starfleet Academy. The other stories are even stranger: Indian Jones lives in Brooklyn, drinks Vanilla Cokes and fights monstrous golems, while Big Bird and Snuffy are transplanted into Japanese manga-style films and art house cinema.

 

As one reads these stories, it’s tempting to believe that it’s all just post-modern satire of childhood obsessions. And a couple of stories are indeed clever satires for readers in the know, such as “7 Movie Reviews,” which highlights the clunky, almost desperate language used to make movies appealing, sending up the reviewer’s attention to random details. Likewise, “Ota Benga Episode Guide: Season 3″ riffs not only on the mechanical, repetitive language that summarizes each episode, but on all of the cliché tropes to which most TV series shamelessly resort at some point: the parallel universe episode, the focus on the female character episode, the episode where the longtime supporting cast member is killed off to make way for a mid-season replacement, and the rise of a season “big bad.” I could be talking about a dozen different television programs we’ve all seen, but “Ota Benga,” whose name and identity are taken from the historical figure, is about a Congolese Pygmy on display in the Bronx zoo. Ota Benga and his friends battle rambunctious monkeys from episode to episode—the premise is ludicrous, but the actual historical figure’s story is in fact upsetting and heartbreaking. Each story has this tension, the bizarre or satiric representation balanced against the poignant.

 

When reading Amazing Adult Fantasy, it’s useful to think of Kathy Acker, the way she appropriated Don Quixote, Great Expectations, and the lives of Toulouse-Lautrec and Pier Pasolini for her own work. There’s the same style of punk post-modernism going on in Jameson’s collection, the same kind of deft, French-theorist understanding of the words on the page versus the lives of these characters we construct in our minds. Jameson exploits the tension between the words on the page and the nostalgic memories we carry to get us to sit up and pay attention to what we’re reading. Like Acker’s novels, Jameson’s collection is dense and challenging, often leaving the reader confused or even maddened by the juxtaposition of familiar names and subject matter with ludicrous and avant-garde situations and constructions. Yet, in reading through and discovering worlds both childish and deadly serious, encountering fierce criticism of fictions and how they lay waste to both the future and the past, and seeing childhood memories paid loving homage while they are put through the wringer, there’s a satisfaction to be had in the intense defamiliarization at work. The stories and characters from our childhood went a long way to shaping us, but they also bear scrutiny now that we are all grown up. This book is not insisting that we put away childish things, but rather that we understand why they need to be put away in the first place. In a culture that seeks to perpetually infantilize us and thereby cash in on our childlike consumption, it’s a potent and important purpose shaping these stories.

 

[Originally printed in The Collagist]