Anthony C Mazzella
Inkwater Press, 2016
I don’t know if calling Anthony Mazzella’s book Building 8 idiosyncratic is really accurate enough. It’s difficult to even assign a genre to Mazzella’s work, and perhaps the best attempt would be to say a series of loosely linked semi-satirical quasi-religious vignettes that have more in common with Dad-Jokes than any kind of humor. There are many moments where Building 8 is aggressively unfunny and simply confusing. For example, this brief piece:
W: Did you do the laundry, dear?
M: Yes, I did my love.
W: Did you mix the colors, sweetums?
M: No, I didn’t my secret sweet.
W: Where are the car keys, my bear? Did you check the seat before we left?
M: We would not be in this predicament if we were not talking about interracial laundry!
This piece comes early in the book but already it’s clear what the tone is going to be. And this leaves the reader wondering just what exactly is the purpose and/or intent of the book.
Honestly, given the book’s subtitle of ‘You Know If You’ve Been There,’ I think we can conclude that only Mazzella comprehends the existential ‘why?’ of this book. In fact, there are moments when it feels as though Mazzella is attempting to make his prose utterly unreadable. Now, let’s be clear, Mazzella’s writing isn’t poor, but rather baffling. While his prose is accomplished and balanced, yet there is never a moment where a reader feels grounded.
Nearly every piece in this collection is a variation on the Socratic dialogue but less philosophical and more akin to a generic Waiting for Godot. There are pieces that are straight-up conversations as well as those that are a sort of one-act play. The longer pieces are written in brick prose with no discernible punctuation to guide readers regarding who is speaking. However, this stylistic choice pushes readers into a more attentive reading, which is a superb maneuver by Mazzella.
But as I mentioned earlier, Mazzella’s idiosyncrasy tends to derail what accomplishments his prose makes. When I say ‘idiosyncrasy’ I do not mean simple eccentricity or quirkiness but rather prose almost entirely compose in the author’s own shorthand. Mazzella’s idiolect isn’t so much off-putting as it is inviolate and, therefore, nearly impossible for others (i.e., readers) to grasp the import of his writing. We could ask, is this the point? Especially when reading pieces like Orthodoxy:
What’s the problem now? No problem. Why do you ask? You have that look on your face. Oh! You mean ‘that look?’ What is ‘that look?’ A little wrinkled around the eyebrow and slight twitching of your right eye. I see my friend. Stop being funny. So, what is the problem? Well, a pickle of one. And that is? If I knew what it was I would be trying to resolve another. Your usually double talk and gobbledygook are getting a little stale.
While this gives us an out, I don’t think it’s legitimate. This is due to the rather bizarre turn the already confusing book takes when it leaves the bizarre ‘Gates of Hell’ chapter into the vaguely moralistic ‘Historical Fiction’ and ‘The Jesus Chronicles’ into the nonsensical chapters ‘Oscar Wilde,’ ‘Sherlock Ohms,’ and ending in the rambling incoherence of ‘Philosophy, Morals, and Everything Else.’
Yet, seeing Building 8 as more of a work of experimental creative nonfiction, one meant to dissolve the standard or conservative manner in which most readers approach texts, could be exactly what’s needed. We’re being prodded, almost dared, to keep reading as we traditionally do as in Sine Die:
It is each one of you who make clear in his or her own mind the sense of the evidence that is given. The sky is green. It is nonsense but you must accept it. Not Open to interpretation or discussion. Accept as fact or rule. The rule of law is not open to discussion or its original intent. It is what it is.
If we simply take Building 8 on its own terms, then we realize that ‘it is what it is,’ exempt from mere comprehension.
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