SubTerrain Review of Motion Sickness

There is a wonderful review by Heidi Greco in SubTerrain, Vol. 7, Issue #69. It’s a bit lazy and curmudgeonly, but any press is good press, right? And I am definitely a SubTerrain fan. Check out this Vancouver based litmag with political overtones if you haven’t yet.

“This book wasn’t what I expected. Though really, who could say what to expect from a book called Motion Sickness. Bouts of quesiness? Since the early twentitieth century, thanks especially to the Dadaists and Surrealists, readers have experienced books in a range of non-traditional formats–from books with blank pages to ones such as Codex Seraphinianus, written in a language that doesn’t exist. From the vantage point of today–already a sixth of the way through the twenty-first century–comes Motion Sickness, and a form that established its own new set of boundaries.

As it turns out, for once the publisher’s description tells it best, presenting the book as “…a flash novel consisting of 55 chapters of exactly 500 words, each accompanied by scratchboard illustrations.” The full-page black and white illustrations, each facing text from the left, look like textured woodcuts and serve to complement and enhance the story. They’re drawn with their focus of attention moving from left to right–in effect, pulling our eyes to the text. Although there are occasional contradictions between text and image, it’s clear that author and illustrator worked closely.

Yet that isn’t to suggest the text is merely incidental to the art; it seems to be the guiding force, the egg that came before the chicken. The main character, twenty-year old Penelope, narrates her up-and-down adventures, beginning her story–as any modern adventure tale should, with a hangover. Some of her experiences are of the everyday variety (she works as a silkscreen artist stenciling designs on T-shirts), but these provide a realistic grounding for some of the crazier episodes in the worthy-of-soap-opera plotlines.

There’s a lot going on beyond the zaniness of wild parties–consequences include an unplanned pregnancy, one that can only end badly. And though tears occasionally flow, there’s little evidence of the emotional after-effects one might expect after traumatic events. A line she’s found in a journal, “hearts on ropes and flowers on telephone poles” echoes across the pages and at least provides a kind of poetic unity as sustenanace.

Nevertheless, characters sometimes merged for me; they’re all a bit too much of the same ilk. But then, that’s often how friends and workmates actually are, so I guess I can’t complain. In fact, some of this merging appears to be intentional, an example being the guy whose shirt seems to be almost the same pattern as the plaid wallpaper. Still, I mostly prefer characters to exist as distinct individuals, ones I don’t have to keep checking back on, wondering which one was the roommate and who was the bad fuck.

Despite some flaws (what book doesn’t have a few?) Motion Sickness stands as a resounding argument for why we need–and will continue to need–actual made-from-paper books rather than only e-versions. Just as it’s long been claimed that the movie version might not stand up to the strengths of the original book, I’m pretty sure the (computer) screen version of Motion Sickness won’t work anywhere near as well as this amazing print version does.”


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