Monday, August 31, 2020

Review of Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

Reviewed by Greg Gilbert


              Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind has been described as Portnoy’s Complaint meets Finnegan’s Wake. In terms of visual art, I’d suggest Hieronymus Bosch meets Gary Larson. This is a work that can only be described through inadequate similes because it’s like nothing else I’ve read. The story describes a crisis of existence, perhaps even an existential crises, in the life of a film critic, a pretentious and painfully self-conscious pseudo intellectual, B. Rosenberg, a Jewish looking non-Jew who repeatedly experiences pratfalls into open “person” holes. While the narrative ranges from the profound and poetic to the spiritual and profane, the writing style is Groucho Marxist in the extreme. Nothing escapes lampooning, including a variety of damning observations about the artist Charlie Kaufman.

                In “real” life, Kaufman is a filmmaker credited with Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, and Anomalisa, a stop-motion film. His fascination with stop-motion and human beings as meat-puppets is central to Antkind. This is his breakout novel. At 714 pages, it really does feel like the author is breaking out of something. I felt as though I’d been on a long amusement ride that included a haunted house, a time machine, a tunnel of love, a variety of “Who’s on first” variations, and a meat packing house with Terminators and clown medics.

                Anita Felicelli describes Kaufman’s work as “feverish genius.” I’m not so certain.  Antkind tells its story of human absurdity by being grossly absurd, more fever than genius. There is a sense of liberation and release in the prose style, certainly the product of a smart and, dare I say it, an overtly self-indulgent style that would leave Tom Robbins scratching his head, but no more genius than B. Rosenberg. After reading Antkind and recovering from near exhaustion, I had to admit to a touch of awe at the author’s gimmicky freedom. I have a hunch that Kaufman’s absurd meanderings will linger in my thoughts for some time. This is not so much a recommendation as a review. Personally, if he writes another book, I’ll likely skim it.   

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Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

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