Portland poet and publisher Zachary Schomburg has assigned himself a potentially punishing task. On Saturday, August 19, he’ll read the entire text of his 350-page debut novel Mammother onstage, from sunrise to sunset. At various points throughout the marathon reading, Schomburg will be accompanied by about half a dozen ambient musicians.
Mammother tells the story of Mano Medium, a teenager growing up in a small town called Pie Time, a community named after the brand of beer and cigarettes made in a local factory. Pie Time is small enough that the one person who has a butcher shop is known as the Butcher, and whoever delivers mail is the Postman.
That insular small town is visited by a supernatural plague known as God’s Finger, and, as the novel progresses, elements of magical realism begin to challenge the town’s comfortable structure. Mammother’s characters veer toward flatness and archetype (or at least, they are supposed to seem that way), and much of the book deals with how they either cleave to or pull away from their prescribed roles—and how stable or fragile their personae really are. This is also a book that ups its what-the-fuck-ness so gradually that by the end you’ve hardly noticed that Mammother has turned into a fantasy novel about goddamn literal mastodons.
Schomburg’s known mostly as a poet, and Mammother bears a bit of that pedigree. The short chapters follow a consistent rise-and-fall structure, often ending reliably on a moment of catharsis, insight, or irony. They’re little bits of hypnotic fiction in and of themselves. Schomburg’s penchant for sticking the landing with his chapters is what will keep listeners engaged. It’s also what kept me reading. I read most of the novel in a single sitting, because Schomburg kept reeling me back in with good stingers. It’s also the type of book that you can put down basically whenever, because at any given moment, you’ve just gotten to a good stopping point.
It’s unlikely that anyone but the most dedicated readers will be up for hearing Schomburg read all of the novel from sunrise to sunset. And while you should absolutely be a completist and arrive at Schomburg’s reading at 6 am, if you want to go listen to Schomburg read for an hour or so, you’ll probably still get something out of it. If you can only make part of it, go later in the day. That’s when shit gets weird.
by Zachary Schomburg