Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Autumn/E&T 2006


by D. Harlan Wilson

Raw Dog Screaming Press

224 Pages
(Review by Steve Finbow)


Twenty-nine stories, flash fictions, parables, prose poems set in PC. The place is Pseudofolliculitis City and its citizens resemble an unholy mix between René Magritte’s bowler-hatted bourgeoisie and Anthony Burgess’s Droogs. The medical disorder Pseudofolliculitis barbae results in hair growing back into the flesh in the beard area and, like the condition, these stories get under your skin, they itch and irritate and fiction does not get any more virtual and hairy than this. It is surreal when surreal does not mean advertising. It is media savvy when there is nothing left to sell. Think Terry Pratchett for the de Sade set, Douglas Adams with a hairball of Krafft-Ebing, or William Gibson bent over and buggered by Sergeant Bertrand.

 This is postmodern science fiction that takes more from William Burroughs than it gives away in free moustaches. Speculative fiction with a speculum for a bookmark. I am not sure if the book holds together as a map of cities of the imagination in the same way as Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, and William Burrough’s Interzone, but I had fun trying to figure out my route among the characters and descriptions.

Surrealism is hard to do these days; it comes over as old-fashioned, trite, even hokey, but D. Harlan Wilson gets it just about right. Not since Mark Leyner has there been such an able fusion of fantasy and satire. I am not saying that Mr Wilson is on a par with Leyner, or Vonnegut, or Tom Robbins, who all work in a similar vein, but he is at least following closely in their footsteps.

 Unencumbered by a fixed narrative, Pseudo-City elides genres and explodes fictional stereotypes. D. Harlan Wilson writes a universe that he considers “irreal”, a universe that, in reflection, is more real than our own. The novel investigates interzones between fiction and reality, the human and the non-human, prose and poetry; often when a writer attempts this, the writing comes over as a mulligan stew of half-baked ideas and flowery verbiage but Pseudo-City excites with its fictional flavourings and heady broth of poststructural philosophy.

 So, it’s that good, huh? Well, it is an enjoyable read, supercalifragilistic in fact, despite the bad jokes – dollhairs for dollars – a bit strained that one, and the somewhat metaphorical names of the characters –Dr Beebody, etc.–become tiresome, plus the connections between the stories can, at times, be tenuous; but if you like Philip K. Dick, Norman Spinrad, or Rudy Rucker, you will enjoy this. I would argue D. Harlan Wilson’s writing style is taken from André Breton’s ultimate surrealist tenet to go ‘down into the street, pistol in hand, and shoot at random into the crowd’, only, instead of bullets, D. Harlan Wilson’s gun is loaded with words.