Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jason E. Rolfe Clocks In

From 2014, Jason E. Rolfe's An Inconvenient Corpse was the funniest book I had read in years. Now, in Clocks, it has a rival.

I passed a younger version of myself on the way to work this morning. I was eleven years old.

"Wow," I said.

"I wish I was more self-confident back then," I replied.

"I wish I turned out differently."

"I had such low self-esteem."

"And I had such high hopes."

I went to work feeling absolutely miserable, but I went to school feeling even worse.

Sometimes, a good book that I recommend thoroughly can be hard to review; this one, for example. In the same way that a joke or a poem cannot be summarized, the stories in Clocks can only be experienced. As tempted as I might be to post entire stories in this review, I can only quote from sections.

I wouldn’t say I was a nihilist; it’s just that I thought the world was meaningless and our lives were utterly pointless.

Jason E. Rolfe has a passion for absurdist fiction, an encyclopedic knowledge of its writers. Without such a compass, I can only compare his work to John Sladek's, to R. A. Lafferty's, to the fables of Ambrose Bierce or Robert Louis Stevenson. If Stevenson's "The Sinking Ship" makes you laugh, then Clocks will do the same.

"Who the hell are you?" Jules Verne demanded.

We all turned toward the Frenchman, who’d somehow appeared in the tunnel beside us.

"Zhang Heng," Zhang Heng said.

"Edmund Halley," Edmund Halley said.

"Jason Rolfe," I said.

"Two of you are famous enough to be familiar to me," Jules Verne said. "But you sir," he said to Edmund Halley. "I’ve never heard of you before in all my life."

Among the many joys of the book are the tributes paid to Rolfe's favourite people, from Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett to Daniil Kharms and Kurt Russell in The Thing. They show up and perform along with condescending couches, blue whales, Flat Earthers and Hollow Earthers (who cannot get along), Russian writers lost in America, Canadian writers lost in Canada, Mexican pinatas and kidney stones that seriously get in the way of things.

I lost my mind this morning. I’m frustrated because I always leave it in the old wooden bowl by the door. The second I step in the house I drop my wallet, my car keys, my watch and my mind in that bowl. I always do, because if I don’t I’m bound to lose them. It’s become such a habit that on those rare occasions when I do forget, I assume that’s where they are, which makes it even harder to remember where I’ve actually left them. Once, for example, I found my car keys in the freezer, my watch in the clothes hamper, my wallet in the lint trap on our dryer and my mind beneath the cushions of our comfy basement couch. It should go without saying that I haven’t searched any of those places today. Having lost my mind I’m not exactly thinking straight.

There are moments of melancholy, observations of life's regrets, hopes eroded, but looming over the entire book is the humour that made An Inconvenient Corpse a constant pleasure.

The corpse is gone; the clocks are here. Grab this book, and uncover one of Canada's best kept secrets: the bleakly joyous, laughing world of Jason E. Rolfe.

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