Thursday, June 19, 2008

Review: Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas

Imagine Mister Toad’s Wild Ride told from the perspective of an alcoholic, mentally unstable, beat poet in 1960’s America. Imagine a Lovecraftian nightmare realized in a stream-of-consciousness as Cthulhu arrives and enslaves the world. Imagine a humanist sociopolitical satire wrapped in postmodernism (or perhaps even post-postmodernism). Imagine Move Under Ground (US, UK, Canada) by Nick Mamatas.

Recovering from a mental breakdown, Jack Kerouac witnesses the rise R’lyeh from the Pacific Ocean. A surreal journey follows through roads of America with Jack Kerouac, Neil Cassady, and William S. Burroughs – On the Road (
US, UK, Canada) in reverse during a Lovecraftian apocalypse, all told through the psychedelic point of view of an alcoholic, mentally unstable, beat poet, never knowing what’s real and what’s hallucination.

The premise behind Move Under Ground really grabbed me – it’s interesting, exciting and promising. I find this somewhat strange since I’m not all that familiar with the writing of Lovecraft and Cthulhu lore, and I’ve never read anything by the Beats – and most pointedly, I’ve not read On the Road by Kerouac. With this lack of background I’m sure I missed many a passing reference and limited my potential enjoyment of the book, however, at this point I remain undecided about how much that impacted my reading of the book.

It’s this feeling of uncertainty that dominates my thoughts after reading the book. I cannot even decide if I liked Move Under Ground or not. The prose is dense, the point of view difficult to see through and the short 160 pages read like more than double that amount – not necessarily in a good way. With book’s density and references to works I have little familiarity with, it’s not particularly approachable for me. However, it is compelling in a way I find difficult to express. Kerouac has always been considered a very human author and that comes through here as well – for all I wanted to stop reading, I couldn’t help but continue.

Related to these emotions above are what I’ll classify as the post-modern qualities of Move Under Ground. The satirical edge attacks sociopolitical ideals in the fantastical, unusual, and psychedelic framework of Lovecraftian nightmare. In many ways, we see the deconstruction of that ‘ideal’ American society of the early 1960’s at the same time we see a deconstruction of the Beat Generation that rejected those ideals. These complexities make me want to tag Move Under Ground with a post-postmodernism label, but that would be stretching my understanding of the subject more than a little.

Underlying all this is an almost humanistic exploration of a troubled, scarred, even pathetic American. After all is said and done, we get the first lucid picture of Kerouac and the bitter shell of a man he has become. Is this realism the underlying heart of Move Under Ground? I can’t really say, but it just might be.

As I indicated above, through all this thought and exploration, I still don’t know that I enjoyed reading Move Under Ground. It was equally compelling and a chore to read – I didn’t want to continue reading, yet I did. My emotional response seems as conflicted as the words of the book. However, in the end, it’s these conflicted emotions, this exploration, my uncertainty that make realize that yes, Move Under Ground is great book, if not one I can say that I liked. 4-9/10

1 comment:

Carl V. said...

Sounds like some of the experiences I've had with a few book this year. Your opening paragraph certainly sounds compelling and I am a fan of Lovecraft, at least with the little I exposed myself to this past year (my first foray into Lovecraft's great short stories). I'm sorry that all this adds up to a book that is a chore to read.


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