Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Archelon Ranch by Garrett Cook

Garrett Cook's novel Archelon Ranch is a surprising work for a number of reasons. First, it keeps shifting the narrative focus. At the beginning the main character is a sentient hat named Bernard. Later Bernard is a genetically altered human who is the subject of cruel medical experiments. Still later the focus is upon Bernard's revenge obsessed brother, who may or may not be the true protagonist of the novel.

Another surprising element of the book is the presence of Garrett Cook, himself. No, I don't mean we sense his authorial imperative, though, that's an important part of the book as well. No, Garrett Cook, the author, appears as a character- joining the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Kaufman, James Joyce, and indeed, even Luigi Pirandello, who all deal with the modern existential question by inserting themselves as characters in their own works.

This act catapults the work into a metaphor for the creative process itself. Such self-examination is usually undertaken by a more mature writer, and one might question the wisdom of an author appearing in his own third novel. Cook seems to delight in his audacity, in a kind of tortured, confused manner that makes his plight appealing. I look forward to seeing what perspective Cook might have as an authorial character twenty years from now.

Some of the characters in Archelon Ranch are aware they're characters in a book, and some are not. It's all bound up in the concept of Deep Objectivity, a characteristic a good author must possess. Cook is objective enough to know his characters suffer at his hands, and his characters are aware enough to hate him for it. It's a masterful technique for imparting insights on the subject of consciousness, and one that is unique in Cook's work. It's the best depiction of some of the realisations I've had while under the influence of certain consciousness expanding substances I've ever seen.

Some themes from Cook's first two novels are seen here - duplicitous religious leaders, frighteningly ominous shopping malls, a society out of touch with itself. You might have noticed I've avoided talking about the plot. That was intentional. I can't describe it, and really, it's kind of irrelevant. I'm not saying the plot isn't strong- because it is. It's just impossible to try and encapsulate in a few sentences, and there's so much else going on in this book that is thought provoking, it's not even necessary to get into the plot for this review.

Cook as an author has grown considerably as a storyteller in this book, which is quite an achievement since all three of his novels have been written in a relatively short period of time. I suspect Garrett felt more at home with the free-wheeling nature of this story, as opposed to the rather tightly plotted Murderland volumes. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys challenging material and surreal storytelling, but who also like to be thoroughly entertained when reading.

Buy Garrett Cook's Archeon Ranch on Amazon here:


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