Blake Butler and Justin Taylor are two bright young literary chaps best known for their affiliation with the influential website HTML Giant. They're touring together, both with new books—we didn't have room to review 'em both, but it didn't seem sporting to pick just one. So here, Giant vs. Giant, are a few highlights of each.
The Gospel of Anarchy
by Justin Taylor
SEXUALLY PROGRESSIVE TWENTYSOMETHINGS
In Justin Taylor's Gospel of Anarchy, we're introduced to protagonist David, a college dropout working at a call center in Gainesville, Florida, during the late '90s. After falling in with an anarchist flophouse, he lands in a pseudo-trinogamous relationship with a lesbian couple who take him in as their third. Anarchy of the bedroom becomes religion, and this contorted belief system justifies otherwise "unholy acts."
COUNTERCULTURE CULTS GONE WILD
The beliefs of David's flophouse friends are based on the writings of Parker, a drifter struggling to reconcile his anarchist beliefs with his rigid Christian upbringing. Parker's internal struggles have been recorded in a notebook that's discovered by his roommates after he goes missing—his friends begin to see him as a prophet, and his writings are distilled to a zine and distributed during makeshift Sunday, get-drunk-and-fuck sermons. Pretty soon an anarcho-Christian cult blooms from his writings.
FAULT LINES OF PARADOX
Throughout Gospel is contradiction. The search for a median point between the ultimate authority of God and the egalitarian, no-rules-just-right tenets of anarchy bleed into problems, like the existence of suffering in a benevolent God's world, and on to more intricate thought-pretzels from Parker's journal. Confusion kicks into high gear when Parker's questions are presented as answers, when seemingly irreconcilable problems of philosophy and existence are codified. MATT STANGEL
There Is No Year
by Blake Butler
BOOK COVER JUDGMENT = VALIDATED
A plot summary is nowhere to be found on Butler's There Is No Year—the jacket description includes fragments like, "Events on the horizon: a hole, a box, a light, a girl." It's as though it's announcing, "Hello, I am not like other books." Fair enough. Butler's defiantly experimental novel is about a nameless family living in a nameless town, confusion and horror seeping with hallucinogenic persistence through the watery borders of their lives. (The previous sentence is an elaborate way of saying, "I'm not exactly sure what it is about, but it's kind of scary.")
HORRIFIC INVERSION OF A DOMESTIC SETTING
When the nameless family moves into their new home, there's already a "copy" family living there—a silent doubling of father, mother, and child that must be disposed of. The house itself is constantly morphing, full of endless passageways and attics, rooms filled with nothing but hair. The house can't be trusted, and there's no relief to be found in romantic or filial love.
Butler's novel is, simply, not for everyone: It's driven by neither character nor plot, and most of its movement is physical, as the characters themselves walk or crawl from room to room, down hallways, through passages in the wall. Butler's language is persistently creepy, intercut with humor and surprising pop culture references, but it's ultimately 401 pages of experimental prose that prioritizes language over communication. Read at your own risk. ALISON HALLETT