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Books > Lit Up

Austentatious

Pride and Prejudice colored in ultraviolent zombie bedlam, Robert Fanning's latest, and a grumpy proofreader

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Published 8/26/2009

Though they have similarly rabid fan bases, you would never expect to find the worlds of Jane Austen and George A. Romero forcibly colliding, but collide they do, brilliantly in the ultimate postmodern mashup. Purists will be aghast that some artistic travesty has been committed here, but curious rubberneckers can rest assured; it's the same old fusty classic you put off reading in lit class but now spiced up with 120 percent more zombie mayhem. 

This demented experiment in literary fusion is the work of a lunatic named Seth Grahame-Smith, who pays highest tribute to the page-turning romantic tension of Austen by dousing her purple prose in spurting fountains of arterial crimson. Smith holds completely faithful to the basic tone, tenor and structure of the book, just with frequent outbursts of bone-chilling terror and carnage. Only in such an insanely inspired project as this could unholy flesh devouring cannibals be daintily referred to as "unmentionables." 

The story still involves the social struggles and amorous adventures of the proud 19th century Bennet family; it's just that now brain-hungry ghouls stalk the woods outside of the handsome country estate of Longbourn. The clan's four unmarried daughters are just as man-crazy as ever, but their quests for love are made both poignant and ridiculous by the supernatural scourge afflicting England.
The satiric bite is still sharp, but the fusion of stuffy 19th century frippery and modern horror leads to delightful passages like this: "Elizabeth lifted her skirt, disregarding modesty, and delivered a swift kick to the creature's head, which exploded in a cloud of brittle skin and bone." 

In the first 50 pages or so, the mind reels, it's easy to be gobsmacked by the audacity of taking a treasured tome and suddenly making it pomo as a mofo. Yet what's initially a gimmick becomes a masterstroke, one that actually enriches the original themes. Plucky Elizabeth, long regarded as a proto feminist icon, is here reborn as a full-blown badass schooled in the deadly arts and hardened, Wu-Tang Clan style, in the 36 chambers of the Shaolin.  She still shares a somewhat star-crossed love-hate affair with the vain Mr. Darcy, but their romantic sparring is now supplemented with actual roundhouse kicks and the occasional foot sweep. And zombies, the perfect metaphor for mindless herd following and consumer greed, make the original's frivolous, money-obsessed social striving seem all the pettier. In a world besotted by "Satan's hordes," one has little time for foolishness, and love, true, mad, passionate love is as prized a commodity as fresh brains.  —Corey Hall


American Prophet 
by Robert Fanning
Marick Press 
$14.95, 79 pp. 

The music of language and the mystical power of prophecy have been linked for ages. Psalms, for instance, is considered one of the poetical books of the Bible, and it's also known for its prophetic verses. Local poet Robert Fanning takes that old idea of combining poetry with mysticism and hurls it into the static, chaos and — from his vantage point — plain old strangeness of American culture in the 21st century.  With the artificial light of casinos, movie theaters and towering superstores Fanning's prophet illuminates where we've been, where we are and where we're going.  

American Prophet, his third book of poetry, has a heaviness and a complexity not found in his previous collections Old Bright Wheel and The Seed Thieves (also published by Marick Press in 2006). This book follows a darkly clad prophet through a war zone, an Elvisfest, a wilderness and other odd places where he observes, predicts and laments. 

The idea of the prophet works on many levels: the poet himself, the reader who attaches meaning to the work as an essential part of experiencing it, and an angel or a god who walks invisibly through a world whose beauty and demise pierce his heart. 

Stranger or mystic, human or spirit, Fanning's alter ego gives us moving images of small suffering and glimpses of big beautiful ugliness in the most unexpected places. At one point he's observing a woman at a dry cleaner's where tagged clothes sway like ghosts and a thread gone missing represents much more significant losses. These fleeting observations tend to build and prompt important questions. What do our politics mean? What is technology doing to our world? Is there room for silence or contemplation in the clutter and clamor of modern life? 

Fanning's answers sing courageously inside these pages. —Norene Smith


How Shall I Tell the Dog? And Other Final Musings
by Miles Kington
Newmarket Press
$19.95, 206 pp.

At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life
by Wade Rouse
Harmony Books
$23.99, 301 pp.

A grumpy book reviewer quibbles.

The promo material of two of three picks of humor books from the MT "could be reviewed" pile breathlessly mention funny-hair columnist Dave Barry as the ideal these authors are going for.

One happy blurb says the book is David Sedaris meets Dave Barry. The next celebrates a Dave Barry-Mitch Albom combo. Maybe there's a scab to be picked here. ... —Dennis Shea

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