Jun 25, 2008

Book review - Valley of Day-Glo by Nick DiChario

As loyal readers of this blog may be aware - and a quick shout out to all the regulars: Matt, Rod, Jeff, Colin, Koop, Rob, Tanya, Elizabeth, Big D, Shaggy, C-Doc, Smelly Joe, Big Tiny, Earl, Jedthro, Anonymous, Mom, Dad, Big Shirtless Murray, Squinty, CRAZY LADY WHO USES ALLCAPS TOO MUCH, and Teddy (way to fight fires, bro!) - I am a big fan of Nick DiChario’s first novel A Small and Remarkable Life. It remains one of the only modern novels I’ve come across to effortlessly evoke the works of sci-fi legend Theodore Sturgeon, which in itself is a rare and wonderful thing. Yes, comparisons to Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, or Arthur C. Clarke are all well and good, but who gets compared to Sturgeon? Very few, and with very good reason. Sturgeon was an innovator, fusing a depth of humanity with bizarre, outworldly concepts that resulted in works of astonishing complexity and clarity. A Small and Remarkable Life was Sturgeon reborn, and if you haven’t read it, or Sturgeon for that matter, then shame on you. Needless to point out, I awaited DiChario’s second novel, Valley of Day-Glo, with an eagerness that bordered on the pathological.

So, here it is, and what’s the consensus? DiChario is no Theodore Sturgeon, not anymore. And that’s a compliment. Valley of Day-Glo is as far away conceptually from A Small and Remarkable Life as Sturgeon’s To Marry Medusa is from, say, Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. That is to say, pretty damn different. But it is equally compelling, equally weird, and equally accomplished. DiChario cannot be accused of repeating himself in anything but quality.

Valley of Day-Glo is ostensibly a post-apocalyptic epic, but by way of the absurdist fictions of Kurt Vonnegut and Will Self (whose novel The Book of Dave has slight echoes in DiChario’s narrative). Its protagonist is one of the last of the Iroquois, in a future where tribes of Natives are slowly reclaiming the earth, the white men (or Honio’o) having perished in the Great Reddening which decimated the planet. It all sounds deadly serious, and DiChario approaches the subject with utmost respect, but when you realize that the main character’s name is Broadway Danny Rose - the eunuch son of Father The Outlaw Josey Wales and Mother Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - you get an inkling of DiChario’s warped and refreshing take on the apocalypse genre.

It is the intent of the tribe of Broadway Danny Rose to “actively integrate the words of wisdom, the objects and rituals that remain from the Pre-Reddening Honio’o into the cultural habits of the Indian tribes, so that the horrible deeds that provoked the great Indian spirits to destroy the yellow- and dark- and white-skinned people will never be duplicated in ignorance.” Unfortunately, there are only three members left, and when Father The Outlaw Josey Wales is strangled to death by Mother Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? after an argument concerning Major League Baseball, there aren’t many options left for keeping the tribe alive. Mother and son decide to take Father’s body to the Valley of Day-Glo, a fabled land “where all the colours of the pre-Reddening Earth can be found. Flowers are in constant bloom there. Trees reach up so far into the sky that it is impossible to know where the branches end and the flowers begin.” It is, in other words, Eden, where death becomes life. And although Broadway Danny Rose does not believe it exists, Father The Outlaw Josey Wales did, and burying him there seems the right thing to do.

In a recent interview, DiChario classifies Valley of Day-Glo as absurdist fiction, although he admits even he does not necessarily know how to define the term (He also states his love for Steven Sherrill’s The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, which makes me like him even more). Much of what occurs in Valley is indeed absurd, as when the tribes each take a book as their personal bible; the tribe of Broadway Danny Rose, the Gushedon’dada tribe, worships The Microwave Cookbook. After a harrowing journey through the blasted landscape, Broadway Danny Rose meets up with an established township of tribes, and discovers that “[the] chiefs of the Independent Iroquois nations planned for the future by organizing the tribes into a coalition of argumentative nincompoops.” The ultimate answer to the existence of the Valley of Day-Glo is as strange and inspired a piece of weirdness as ever graced the pages of sci-fi. But DiChario never flinches, never winks, never suggests that he’s just goofing, which contributes to Valley’s lasting effect on the reader.

There is much of Vonnegut in DiChario’s narrative; the beset-upon and often impotent hero, the strange underhanded humour, the overarching anger at unending human stupidity. The book jacket makes a slightly misleading comparison between Valley and the works of Douglas Adams; both are science-fiction with a humourous bent, but Adams, God love him, was far more concerned with making people laugh than exploring the literary boundaries of his chosen genre. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Adams was Monty Python and The Goon Show, whereas DiChario is Samuel Beckett and Joseph Heller. Both options are funny, but if you go in expecting similar levels of hilarity, you’re bound to be disappointed at best, and outright perplexed, befuddled, and flummoxed at worst.

What is clear is that DiChario is a unique talent, a writer of depth and originality (a mix far more rare than it should be). He’s not afraid to take risks. He’s warped. I await his third novel with all the breathless anticipation of a child newly introduced to chocolate, with the promise of more in the indeterminate future.

And as an aside, if for no other reason, I would love Valley of Day-Glo for its book club discussion guide alone, rife with such questions as:
2. Do you think humankind can survive a nuclear world war? If so, are you serious?
5. How important is it for you to be accepted by other people?
9. Why are you reading this guide when you could be out in the world discovering great books?
Now that’s ballsy, suggesting that people read something else.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...