Dear Marvin K. Mooney:
I have just finished what someone named Christopher “The Zoologist” Higgs is calling your complete works. He is either stupid or misinformed (and likely both) as the book makes reference to pieces that are not included, and can’t even decide who it’s written by. What kind of title is The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney for a book that’s primarily interested in making a diaristic sort of product that refuses to draw a line between product and process, author and character? It offers two title pages (inverting title and author info) in the format of title pages, though one could imagine that Higgs wants us to view every page, if not every sentence, as a kind of title page, reintroducing us to the book over and over again. It brings up questions of unity early, after all. Higgs may want us to believe that the only suggestion of unity here is the fact that all of it is bound together—or binary-coded together in the case of the digital edition.
Higgs also claims you have disappeared, then speaks as if he were you to confuse the nature of this disappearance. It’s fairly simple, really. You vanished as soon as he saw you, like a star in the corner of his eye that he’s now trying to look at directly. He’s got his rods and cones all mixed up. [You can’t invent a fiction unless it disappears.]
Here’s my utilitarian feedback on the digital form. Sator is a new press, and digital readers are a new tool for information delivery. You might expect some hiccups. I read the digital version on a Sony eReader pocket edition. The default text size was small—too small. So I hit that button with the magnifying glass and the plus sign on it. This demolishes the format. Words break in the middle, page numbers get squished into positions where they don’t belong, and, worst of all, white space (I’m a poet, so you can imagine my horror at this) is abolished. This is likely more a fault of the good folks at Sony than the good folks at Sator, but I think it’s worth mentioning. I don’t know enough about the technology to suggest a fix. As someone interested in how technology affects our reception of information, and literature in particular, I was deeply troubled by this. I found myself shrinking and magnifying the text constantly to notice any discrepancies, especially since there were places where form and space seemed significant. However, I don’t think that Monsieur Higgs and his history (or yours?) of the circus particularly suffer from this discrepancy in format. In fact, there are places where the shifting form due to magnification may be enhancing his point. I suspect he may even do this on purpose in the future.
It’s a brilliant piece of work, Mr. Mooney, whatever it is. Belles-lettres? Does that still mean something? According to Wikipedia it does, but I’ve been taught to distrust all my sources no matter how agreeable they seem. Even this book tells me to stop reading. Does Higgs really want me to stop reading? Does he enjoy making me feel rebellious and James Dean-y as I defy the book? [If ever there was a rebel without a cause, it is anyone who reads this book after it tells them to stop.] Is this some small tribute to Choose Your Own Adventure novels, highlighting that every book is choose your own adventure—keep going or end it now? Or does he simply want me to ask all these questions? Knowing Higgs a bit, my best guess is that he wants us to ask the questions, regardless of the answers. I also think he’d be pleased that we keep reading, not only because it pleases most writers to be read, but because he’d prefer a reader who challenges the text. He tells us that plot, character, setting and theme are the enemies. And aren’t they the enemies because they force us to obey, to reach the same conclusions as the writer? If we labeled them tyrants, would we be wrong? This book can’t even cohere enough to force me to read one page after another. I could skip around and open it anywhere and be on the “right page.” I’d miss everything and I’d miss nothing. It’s not a paradox; it’s a deliberate construction of consistently enjoyable work. You don’t have to read it all to feel its finished. And you can read the whole thing before you feel it’s actually begun. That’s kind of the point.
See what he has done? He has caused me to draw conclusions and respond. I’m not merely satisfied with reading it and having coursed it through my brain. It’s caused me to begin writing something of my own. This is good work.
The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney is probably worth reading more than once, though it’s possible this will never be done. It’s intellectual without being snooty, funny without being insulting, and paradoxical without being cryptic. [Though some of the more experimental passages may come across as cryptic, the reader will benefit from reading them the way a musician might read finger exercises. Don’t expect a melody to emerge. Find some level of discipline or pleasure that gets you through it. The passage may simply be asking you to calculate your own attention span; it may be trying to distract you from everything but its own rhythm by not allowing you to engage; it may be laughing at my suggestion that it be “doing” anything.]
Here are some of the questions, Mr. Mooney, that Higgs makes me ask myself:
What is the difference between lying and making art?
Where is the line between author and character? And is a made thing ever natural? (The Garden of Eden was a made thing, wasn’t it?)
Does literature about literature become part of the work?
One reviewer has written (before reading the book, oddly enough), “I’d like to take a class on this book.” Already, it has entered the mind that for our experience of the work to be complete, we must have more input from additional sources. The author’s own input is not enough. The Complete Works addresses this question by opening the novel with essays and reviews about your works, Mr. Mooney—both positive and negative, both thoughtful and inflammatory.
Not too long ago, our access to information was more limited. But I hardly need to point out that now if we want to know what ten “Top Critics” and 10,000 other people thought of Shutter Island, we can go to one website and introduce ourselves to additional views on the topic. It’s more difficult to find a copy of The Waste Land without footnotes than a copy that includes them. Classic works of literature are released almost invariably with essay introductions that explain and/or explore the historical context and value of the work you’re about to read, as well as its themes and plots. Higgs knows that art exists for its reaction. It likes to be looked at/taken in. It wants those people out there in the dark to engage. That’s why it makes us make it. And The Complete Works seems to suggest that the author alone makes nothing, makes only a search for some sort of identity, a new someone to engage with. So The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney could not be complete without responses to that work.
Until now, I always thought of the blurb as a marketing tool. It is, of course, but I recognize that it’s effective because it is evidence of engagement, which is the enlargement of the work. It’s already bigger than the author, the book, and the me that’s picking it up. There’s an other who picked it up, too. This is more attractive intellectually than physically, as it’s now making me consider the collection of skin oils and bacteria on the books I pick up. Of course it disgusts you, Mooney. If you had ever thought that your writing would lead to so much illness and overpriced antibiotics [and the resultant resistant strains of bacteria and more illness] you would never have begun. You would have been happy to grind glass or race Formula 1 cars against Danica Patrick.
Possible blurb: This is a book so good that it can’t simply end. It requires an encore. [This will make no sense as a blurb. You have to read the book, nearly to the end, before you understand this. Blurbs need to help us sell books. This will only confuse people. Confused people don’t buy books. They’re too confused. They go home and watch dinner and eat TV. See how this could be a problem for us?]
If you decide to read the book, as you must, be prepared for the shifting forms. One minute it’s an essay, the next it’s a story, and then it’s a drawing of France or California (who really knows the difference?). It’s sure-footed, then dissociative and self-conscious. It will remind you of Seuss, then Stein, then Derrida, then Pynchon. It calls itself both a novel and nonfiction (it also calls itself American even though it devotes several pages to “defining” Paris and seems particularly knowledgeable of French cinema, while it makes no mention of Chuck Norris, chicken fried steak, or the bolo tie). As I said before, I’m not sure if this Higgs is misinformed or stupid, but he’s made something that is label-defiant, like that peanut-butter/jelly in one jar gook, or comfortable lingerie. (If you put a label in it, it’s no longer comfortable.) He’s at least pretending to be legitimately confused about whether he’s him or whether he’s you, so he’s not sure it’s all fiction. It is, which is just short of saying it’s BS, and I know Higgs won’t mind me saying so. It’s supposed to be BS. If it were anything more than that, according to his own book, it’d be the artistic equivalent of a crapper. The world needs more crappers, as evidenced from the apparently constant lines that ladies deal with in their lavatories, but I don’t think Higgs’ goal with this work is to supply them. If so, he’s failed miserably.
Mr. Mooney, I recommend this book. I also recommend that you sue Christopher “Master Plan” Higgs for fraud and libel.
P.S. If you know any Plot Police, you may want to alert them to this so-called “novel.” I know they could use a win.
Tyler Moore is an MFA candidate at The Ohio State University. This is his first publication.