When I first read Manbug, I knew I'd finally found the book to kill my inner conservative.
You see, I'd been feeling guilty. I feel guilty a lot, for all sorts of things (I'm sure you've done something that I feel guilty about), but this time it was because I hadn't been enjoying much innovative fiction recently. More specifically, I hadn't much cared for the last two LBC Read This! picks. Had I loved the weird and wonderful Garner so deeply that it had destroyed my ability to appreciate all other fragmentary, nonlinear, not-exactly-plot-focused fiction? Was I becoming less pretentious and artsy? Did I secretly just want that nemesis of all of us who take literature oh-so-seriously, a good read? Had my inner conservative, the one from the side of my family related to Big Uncle Dick, arisen and begun his global domination of my aesthetic sense?
Manbug saved me. I read it in one sitting, one giant gulp of pure bliss. Here is a book composed of fragments and fancies, a book that utterly disdains anything resembling a traditional plot, a book full of voice and vigor, a funny book, a sexy book, a book so well constructed, so carefully controlled that it would be easy to miss how deadly serious are its ideas and themes. It is a book I have now read three times, and each time my perception of the characters and their situations has changed, each time I have been amazed at some of the high-wire tricks of the ostensibly simple narration, and each time I have been delighted. My grumbles with many of the less traditional novels I had been reading mostly had to do with emotion and facility -- everything I was reading felt too slick, too self-satisfied, too removed from the world of human feeling. I did not want to believe that innovative fiction was condemned to be those things no matter what. Manbug was exactly the book I needed to make my case.
There will be plenty of time to discuss Manbug during the upcoming LBC Manbug Week, but for now let me give you a taste of the wonders therein and introduce you to our protagonists, Sebastian (an entomologist with Asperger's Syndrome) and Tom (a bisexual dyslexic Buddhist)...
"What did you say under the tree?" Tom asked. "About the future?"
"The future? The future is insects."
"What did you think?"
"I thought you said sex."
"Oh. I have pictures like that. I didn't want to just whip them out. Should I?"
"Sure," said Tom.
Sebastian pulled out another folder. "Look -- these azure snout weevils are really going at it. Look at their feet, aren't they cute? So Dr. Seuss. And the eyestalks on her, see how they're cocked forward, you know she's thinking oh yeah baby."
Tom had to laugh. "Wanna see more? Insects making out like mad?"
Tom watched Sebastian's face as he talked, listening not to the impenetrable flow of words as dense as a dictionary, but to the sound of excitement. These elaborate creatures lived in a complex chemical environment, Sebastian explained, where love and war are dictated by smell.
In the biochemical universe, formula is the message. And programming is attributed to an elusive, pernicious instinct. And as Sebastian says, everything he needed to know, he learned from insects.
He handed Tom a photo. "Look at this. One male mounting another male who is mating with a female. The one on top is called a superfluous male."
"A superfluous male. As far as I'm concerned," Sebastian stated, "there's no such thing."
Tom smiled. "Why not just say, threesome?"
"Yes," Sebastian said. "A tiny, marvelous threesome."
I've been there, Tom thought.