Daniel Grandbois, The Hermaphrodite: An Hallucinated Memoir, Los Angeles, Green Integer Books, 2010, $13.95
How shall I review The Hermaphrodite? One could simply label it a humorous book that revels playfully in the unraveling of received meaning, of apparent opposites, of anything under, over, or between the sun. To be sure, one could start with the tired and true convention of placing Daniel Grandbois’ latest hallucination within its larger literary context. One could mention his name along the likes of Richard Brautigan, Italo Calvino, Woody Allen, and Dr. Seuss. Yet does one truly experience the fundamental essence of The Hermaphrodite from this approach? Yes, you say, this is a fabulist work, Mr. Reviewer, I see! An enema for the habitually realist mind! Indeed, this assertion appears to be as true as “true” can be, but what of our sacred yet bowlegged hermaphrodite, its unfresh breath “pungent with the odor of protoplasm?” What is the meaning of this El Hermaphrodita? you demand. Meaning? I demur, sliding rather pleasurably into convention number two of my literary arsenal, AKA, genre identification.
The Hermaphrodite, I exclaim, could be described — like Grandbois’ previous collection of tales (Unlucky Lucky Days) — as a tour-de-force in various short forms such as the fable, the parable, the fairytale, the allegory, and the creation story.
But what does any of that explain? you observe, rather willfully.
Similarly, I shout, one could say that Grandbois has written in tour-de-force fashion a novel in prose poetry — quite often stunningly beautiful in its hallucinatory lyricism — wherein the sentence as a unit of meaning functions much like the line in traditional poetry, to undermine expected meaning, to defamiliarize rather than linearize: “Simone’s surrender commingled with the cotton fibers of her panties, staining them with fertility icons and incomprehensible crystalline formations like snow. Oceans can be drawn into glaciers to reveal connections between lands.” To expect the unexpected, therefore, is surely one meaning that can be abstracted from The Hermaphrodite’s often startling juxtapositions.
I hate the unexpected! you pout, packing your bags for an Iowa workshop.
Stop, dear reader, I interrupt, one can go even further and point to the journey as an essential form here; although unlike Cervantes’ Don Quixote, The Hermaphrodite’s cast of characters do not, as Milan Kundera says, “go out freely and come as [they] please.” No, here the journey is best understood as the multidimensional adventure of the mind, perceptually tripping balls off LSD/other hallucinogens: “One day, as Alfred was meditating in his tree, using the knocking of a woodpecker as his mantra, the significance of the hole became clear. It revealed itself as a kind of bird that took him in its beak and soared through the stratosphere and out into space, until the man’s humble hole took on the properties of an astronomical black hole, to which Alfred surrendered, as one must.”
Drugs are illegal, you observe, rather preachily.
Reader dearest, I sigh.
And finally, one would be remiss without addressing the supposed memoirist nature of this “memoir.” Just whose memories exactly are we remembering here? Grandbois? The hermaphrodite? The answer probably falls somewhere in-between, as most of the meaning does here, but one could read this as an absurdist’s metaphysical riff on humanity’s various and sundry attempts to find meaning in the world, which, of course, brings us rather happily back to the question of El Hermaphrodita. Just what the hell is it? Neither fish nor fowl, male nor female, the hermaphrodite lives happily “in the bliss of confusion, having surrendered unknowably to the unknowable.” And that, dear readers, is my final answer to you: The Hermaphrodite is all about reveling in the experience of life — however confusing it may be — rather than attempting to understand or categorize an enigma. Stop making sense, David Byrne says. Indeed, we respond, with a cockeyed glance, dropping the tab of Grandbois on our tongues. Oh, yes. I see now. Ah.
by Steve Owen