Antkind : By Charlie Kaufman : Oh, so very strange. Stop me if you've heard this one before :

A man writes a novel, a very long novel full of recondite information and pop-cultural jokes, references spanning from Shakespeare to Hegelian philosophy to contemporary TV, and a -

And a plot that involves both omnipresent corporate sponsorship and the pursuit of film of mysterious power, which exists only as a single copy.

This too-broad summation could describe ''Infinite Jest'' as easily as it does Charlie Kaufman's debut novel, ''Antkind'' - but you only have to pierce the veil on ''Antkind'' to discern radical differences.

After a brief preamble about a gelatinous sea monster, written in a faux 19th-century argot, we are hurled into the mind of one B. Rosenberg, a film-critic driving through the Florida darkness, on the way from New York City to St.Augustine to research a book on gender and cinema.

[''B'' is a man - or, to use his own iconoclastically devised pronoun ia ''thon'' - but sticks to the initials for the sake of gender-neutrality].

Pompous, opinionated, self-conscious, self-loathing, B is an astonishing creation : a volcano of ridiculous opinions, and absurd neuroses, a balding, bearded nightmare of a person whose involutions could practically carry a 700-page narrative by themselves, because they, and he, are so riotously funny.

The novel's ''plot'' essentially consists of B's efforts to reconstruct Ingo's masterpiece from memory with a aid of hypnotist named Barassini [The nearest contemporary antecedent for ''Antkind'' is most likely Jonathan Lethem's underrated 2009 novel ''Chronic City'' which features a film critic protagonist suspiciously like B.]

Even at its most hallucinogenic, ''Antkind'' remains appealingly earthy. Its real presiding spirit, as signaled by the name of one half Ingo's comedic duo, is that other ''B'' : Beckett.

As Kaufan's B, collapses into a kind of spiritual invalidity [he wind up convalescing in a ''clown hospital''], he resembles not just the earlier Molloy but also Watt, or the narrator of ''The unnameable'' : figure whose hopelessness [haplessness, helplessness] is matched by their radical absurdity.

And as he walks through a kind of infernal Manhattan [''Werner Herzog faces. No Jonah Hills.'' Just roaches, crows and flames], B is left to wonder.

Why is this day different from all the other days of the year? What does it have that other days lack?

Compassion. Uncertainty.

Within the uncertainty that we will all burn there lies an uncertainty, because within that certainty there are the unanticipated moments, the collisions, the interactions, the physics of how the smoke will curl, and what shape the licks of flame will take, the order of combustion, the moments of grace.

A fragment plucked from the molten center, but one that concentrates ''Antkind's" strengths, and it's real concerns.

In a world that is endlessly reshaping itself in the grips of malign and incomprehensible powers, we are hapless Punchinellos, like B.

And yet it is only through being such that we can find - as Kaufman's novel does, too - anything resembling grace. 

The World Students Society thanks review author, Matthew Specktor.


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