A few weeks ago Fantagraphics released Ryan Boudinot’s short story collection in the form of the quaint little book, The Octopus Rises. So is it good?
The Octopus Rises (Fantagraphics)
Boudinot, a talented Seattleite, is known for his comedic and experimental fiction as seen within some of his more notable works, Blueprints of the Afterlife and The Littlest Hitler. This collection is certainly a demonstration of Boudinot’s creativity and range as a writer, featuring twelve stories each showcasing his literary wit. Some of these fantastical stories are written with a more satirical nature and feature underlying social commentary while others are simply creative and entertaining prose, dabbling in science fiction and comedic, hyperbolic slice of life pieces.
The Octopus Rises features the following stories:
“Death by Tchotchk”: A short about a family and Donut Shop Grand Opening.
“The End of Bert and Ernie”: The beautifully, tragic tale of the Sesame Street characters’ relationship.
“Robot Sex”: No need for an explanation.
“An Essay and a Story about Motley Crue”: A story told in the form of a personal anecdote
“Chopsticks”: A short about the struggles of a man and his cat.
“The Armies of Elfland”: The second great story packed with social criticism on modern. development.
“Cardiology”: A truly inventive story about a town that shares the same heart.
“The Guy Who Kept Meeting Himself”: About a man visited by older versions of himself.
“Bleeding Man and Wounded Deer”: Another passage that needs no explanation and the story I found the most bizarre.
“Readers and Writers”: About two men who discover their eerily similar literary taste.
“Monitors”: A science fiction horror about computer attendants.
“The Mine”: A story about a worker who knows only work and darkness.
The first half of the book contains stories that share a couple of similar themes despite the vast spectrum of genres and topics they address. The majority contain mature themes, very mature themes, and it’s this continuous “crossing of the line” that makes these tales so morbid and hilarious (i.e. Bert and Ernie’s rough and mournful breakup sex). These stories, and the aesthetic of the book as a whole, comes off as a dark, Wes Anderson-esque novel, complete with personalized text formatted for each novel’s tone as well as Boudinot’s merry and elegant writing style while occasionally breaking the fourth wall. The majority of these stories are absurd, but they’re all equally entertaining.
The second half of the book changes tones, right after Chopsticks, with the passages reading more as prose. They have a more serious tone and even border on horror, such as The Monitors, which is one of my favorites. Both Cardiology and The Monitors lighten up on the comedy and define experimental fiction while also exemplifying horror concepts, reminiscent of Lovecraft’s work. They contain sense of futuristic surrealism and the pages themselves contribute to the mood of the stories, especially with the dated, computer text of The Monitors or the eerie black background of The Mine.
Is It Good?
I’m new to Boudinot’s work, but I was blown away by the talent exemplified within this collection. These short stories are beautifully creative and sadistic and are sure to be appreciated by mature readers. Boudinot’s prose read as a blend of Bradbury and Lovecraft and if you aren’t already a fan, I have a feeling you will be shortly.