A Western World

Michael De­forge, 156 pgs, Koyama Press, koyama­presss.com, $22.95

Broken Pencil - - Book Reviews -

Michael De­forge’s work has al­ways been as po­lit­i­cal as it is ab­sur­dist, gen­tly turn­ing our pat­terns of mean­ing-mak­ing on their head through his bizarre and colour­ful nar­ra­tives. In this col­lec­tion, which brings to­gether a num­ber of pre­vi­ous pub­lished works with new comic shorts and even a bit of prose, De­forge’s fas­ci­na­tion with the ar­bitary and rad­i­cally con­tin­gent ways that so­ci­ety struc­tures and is struc­tured by power comes to the fore­front.

The col­lec­tion opens with a dreamy and ide­al­is­tic man­i­festo of com­mu­nal­ism, a stoned con­ver­sa­tion about how a group of friends could or should cre­ate a mi­cro-utopia with the po­ten­tial to trickle out into and trans­form ev­ery level of power. It’s drawn with a smudgy, mushy aes­thetic that hardly reap­pears af­ter.

In­deed, the sto­ries which fol­low sub­vert these sug­ar­coated ideals, re­flect­ing back to the reader the ab­sur­dity of so­ci­etal struc­tures and the ten­dency of hu­mans and other con­scient be­ings to de­troy what is good and to sac­ri­fice ev­ery­thing in the name of the fa­mil­iar rather than the just.

A mi­cro-com­mu­nity com­mit­ted to soft­ness, a dis­en­chanted Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter rant­ing in­ter­nally, an Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment hell­bent on de­stroy­ing a peace­ful af­ter­life, all-too fa­mil­iar data-min­ing anx­i­eties — these are the eerie premises punc­tu­at­ing much of the book. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing them are other episodes ex­plain­ing imag­ined sci­ences and sys­tems such as a new ex­pla­na­tion for hu­man sweat and a his­tor­i­cal lin­eage for kiss­ing. These bits are sig­na­ture De­forge, told in the mat­ter-of-fact, An­i­mal Planet doc­u­men­tar­ian voice.

De­forge’s politic en­cour­ages a psy­chic ex­per­i­men­tal­ism in the reader, ask­ing us to con­sider not the most im­me­di­ate top­ics at hand but rather the meta-nar­ra­tives and epis­te­molo­gies we take for granted. It is ut­terly mas­ter­ful. (Jonathan Valelly)

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