Rats Nest

Broken Pencil - - Book Reviews -

Mat La­porte, 156 pgs, Book­thug, book­thug.ca, $18

Loosely framed as the night­mares of a self-repli­cat­ing 3-D Printed Kid, the 12 sto­ries in Mat La­porte’s de­but col­lec­tion are united by their thickly sur­real premises. “Cir­cle of Pigs” fol­lows a mys­te­ri­ous group of cow­boy hat-clad men — named Colorado, Texas, New Hamp­shire, and Ver­mont — through two rit­u­als: pan­cake break­fast at the lo­cal diner, and a naked bap­tism by ac­tual swine. In “To­tal Hor­ror,” a blink­ing light forms a so­ci­ety with other blink­ing lights over 777 years. Each vi­gnette is fan­tas­ti­cal, thought-pro­vok­ing, and deeply cyn­i­cal — some­thing like a cross be­tween a René Magritte painting and an episode of Black Mir­ror.

Rats Nest’s great­est strength is its style: de­spite his bizarre sce­nar­ios, La­porte main­tains a di­rect, jour­nal­is­tic voice that’s alien yet in­con­spic­u­ous. This straight­ness al­lows room to re­flect on how the events act as al­le­gories of con­tem­po­rary life — which is what makes the book truly fright­en­ing. Like the best dystopian sci-fi, Rats Nest in­stills the sense that things are pro­gress­ing nor­mally even as ev­ery­thing goes hor­ri­fy­ingly wrong.

While La­porte takes cues from plotheavy gen­res like cy­ber­punk and hard­boiled de­tec­tive fic­tion, his sto­ries tend to shirk nar­ra­tive con­ti­nu­ity. In­stead, Rats Nest treats us to ex­quis­ite por­tray­als of ex­is­ten­tial paral­y­sis, oth­er­worldly ul­tra-vi­o­lence, and mind-blow­ing dei ex machina. It’s clear that La­porte — pre­vi­ously known for his sub­ver­sive and ex­per­i­men­tal po­etry chap­books — hasn’t lost the im­pulse to in­ter­ro­gate the con­di­tions of sto­ry­telling it­self.

Luck­ily, the fruits of that im­pulse are sat­is­fy­ing as hell. Take, for in­stance, the 3-D Printed Kid’s re­port that “the word ‘pen’ I ex­trap­o­lated as: 8% polypropy­lene, 1% tin, 5% ink, and so on. Of course, I wrote that with a pen and I must say I find that strange as well.” Bla­tantly vis­ceral yet re­lent­lessly cere­bral, Rats Nest is not for the weak of mind or stom­ach. (John Ny­man)

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