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MANTIDS
By RON DAKRON (Black Heron Press; 2008)

Get this: somewhere in the skuzzier regions of Astoria, Oregon a failed musician is afflicted with a permanent erection while having to contend with human-sized preying mantises, which include the hero’s own wife.  She’s the indirect cause of his erectile dilemma, as downing four Viagra pills is the only way he can have sex with her.  Apparently there’s an alien invasion afoot that causes people to morph into cannibalistic bugs, with the protagonist one of the few remaining humans...although he’s not sure if he isn’t hallucinating the whole thing (neither are we!). 

      The guy’s main objective, of course, is to find a way to make his stiffy go down before it rots off, leading to a desperate jaunt through an already trippy landscape rendered even more so by the mantid infestation.  Apparently this book was patterned after Petronius’ SATYRICON, the world’s oldest novel, with Astoria standing in for ancient Rome and a protagonist who stands in direct contrast to Petronius’ impotent hero.

      I’d expect nothing less from Ron Dakron, a writer I’ve grown fond of over the years.  His stand-out novels include the eccentric thriller INFRA, about a dreamlike trek through Europe, and HAMMERS, a satiric account of people metamorphosing into hammerhead sharks.  Dakron favors heavily self conscious, slip-streamy prose (particularly in his second novel NEWT, which I haven’t been able to get through), yet his is among the very small cadre of experimental fiction whose substance actually matches its style. 

      MANTIDS isn’t the best of Darkon’s books (INFRA gets that distinction), but is the most user-friendly: it’s short and fast moving, and contains a linear narrative with a beginning, middle and end. 

      Dakron has also lightened up on the experimentation.  Yes, his prose is still quite self conscious, and not everyone will have patience with lines like “that skin husk next to the fridge, the split splattered body that her new bug self popped out of--its ripped back still oozing gray biomuck, the limbs tangled into a skin pretzel--whoa!”  But the book is lively and funny, with a spot-on portrayal of the Pacific Northwest punk subculture amid all the insanity--and really: perverted sex, punk rock, Viagra, mutant insects, cannibalism, perpetual erections...what more could you possibly want?
 


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