(This review was originally written for and posted at TNBBC's The Next Best Book Blog. The ever-amazing Lori supplied me with a digital copy of this novella.)
Mastodon Farm, Mike Kleine
Read: 21 October 2013
4 / 5 stars
Read: 21 October 2013
4 / 5 stars
Sometimes a book so thoroughly defies its reader's expectations, is such a departure from more conventional fare and is still utterly enjoyable that it's a difficult entity to write about. Sometimes it takes a person three months to find the words to describe such a uniquely entertaining read when a few paragraphs of casually punctuated chuckles would be the most appropriate reaction. And sometimes, you just have to exclaim that a book was a damn good way to spend an hour or so and not give three flying figs that many, many people would disagree. Because those sounding alarms of dissent probably did not give this odd little book the chance it deserves.
Mastodon Farm, much in the tradition of American Psycho and The Stranger before it, demands to be read as an allegory almost from its first word. Otherwise, it's no easy task trying to impose much sense on its page-long lists, restlessly leaping gambols both across state lines and from celebrity crib to celebrity crib, name- and brand-dropping like there's an endorsement deal on the line, and endless parade of circuitous conversations.
A novella told in the second person, Mastodon Farm follows you with a stalker-like attention to details as you deal with broken African masks at James Franco's house (yes, really), measure the passage of time in songs listened to and movies watched, drive to Dean Cain's apartment only to stare at his bookshelves, lie to your parents about your imaginary relationships and just wish for things to return to normal.
And what is this normalcy for which you're striving, exactly? Good question. Because you seem to be taking your celebrity-populated, party-hopping, crashed-your-Ferrari-so-you'll-just-buy-a-Bentley-rather-than-wait-for-the-shop-to-fix-it existence in admirably nonchalant (though some might say suspiciously numb) stride. Scenes and chapters flicker by as if someone is impatiently flipping through the hundreds of channels comprising the made-for-TV movie of your life. One minute you're hopping on the company jet and heading to Libson; the next, you're casually doing drugs with Kirsten Dunst and talking about living on the moon before she gets up to make chili for you and James Franco (to whom you seem rather close, as he will later accompany you to, among other things, your grandmother's funeral--your grandmother's death, of course, will occupy not even two pages of your attention and warrant absolutely no further mention).
The adage about what's discussed among simple minds (people), average minds (events) and great minds (ideas) is turned on its head here, thanks to the aforementioned metaphorical approach to this fidgety, quirky book. Because the things mostly addressed herein are people more famous than you--wealthy as you apparently are--and the things they either consume for pleasure or create for a living, a superficial read would reduce Mastodon Farm (which derives its name, presumably, from that of a nonexistent apocalyptic film rather than the similarly titled Cake song) to a roll-call of digestible entertainments rather than appreciate it for what it symbolizes.
Applying a dollop of whatever cynicism the reader can bring to the experience of Mastodon Farm greatly adds to the enjoyment one can derive from it--not for the mean-spirited sake of belittling the topics at hand but rather to scratch through the story’s opaquely artificial sheen of mindless, disposable superficiality coating to arrive at its true intent. We live in a time of easy digestion, fleeting obsessions and diminishing attention while clinging to the life raft of escapism, and this novella highlights the maddening vapidity of it all by training a hyper-focused eye on something for a few pages before bouncing to something entirely new and offering it the same intense scrutiny of even the minutest details, over and over again. In a time where irony’s self-congratulatory mockery has become an easy default, it is a relief to witness Mastodon Farm’s more subtle (if not mildly schizophrenic) approach to social commentary via deceptive sincerity: It does not exist to poke fun but rather to raise awareness that we are losing sight of what really matters with a dangerous haste.
Mastodon Farm is not for everyone but those who give it a chance will be rewarded handsomely for their efforts. You may walk away with a slight concussion and a temporary onset of low-grade anxiety, but such admission fees are a small price to pay for taking an eye-opening ride with this distinctly thought-provoking beast.