IMPOSSIBLE JAMES by Danger Slater [book review]

Books, Commentary

Danger Slater’s Impossible James is a bizarro sci-fi comedy that fuses apocalyptic fiction with family saga.

The story begins with James Watson sitting in a doctor’s office, diagnosed with, essentially, the human condition. The depressed paint-drying supervisor, already well into middle age, has a black spot on his brain and only has forty-to-fifty more years to live.

Combined with the knowledge of his sterility, the revelation that he will one day die sends the man into a nervous breakdown: he shows up to work disheveled, half-naked, and covered in filth, shoves a screwdriver through his skull, and eventually finds love with his company’s staff psychiatrist, who gamely helps him impregnate himself with his own clone.

With his beloved Dr. Anne by his side (and finally, inside him), James Watson becomes a human spawning ground, with thousands of clones popping out of his every orifice. His body warps and expands to accommodate them all, eventually fusing with and overtaking an entire house.

More scatological than miraculous, the descriptions of cloning and birth are gleefully gross – just unbelievably disgusting. In fact, James Watson is unbelievably disgusting, but his character is somehow very believable, his every action defined by a combination of terror and narcissism and self-pity that eventually destroys himself and everyone around him (and, err, the entire world).

The only James clone to develop into a full-fledged human (as opposed to a mouse-sized drone) is his firstborn. Alas, with self-awareness comes self-doubt; instead of the blissful ignorance of his brothers, James Watson Jr. has all of his father’s insecurities. After getting a job at a totally-not-ominous omnipresent monopolistic corporation (in an office that, through its very existence, defies the laws of physics), Jimmy uses his father’s notes (and a healthy heaping of bullshit) to develop a cure for death.

It takes skill to write nonsense, and thankfully there’s a lot of both on display here.

The writing is clever throughout, and the novel’s structure is fast-paced and compelling, with short, self-referential chapters jumping backwards and forwards in time. Recounted by Jimmy, James Watson’s origin story is interspersed with bookends of our narrator and a handful of survivors barricading themselves in his office in a futile attempt to allude the Gray Tide, a destructive subatomic parasite that is currently consuming the world.

There’s a healthy dose of existential terror underlining the absurdity. The shadow of death – not just of the individual, but the complete and utter annihilation of all matter – hangs over Impossible James like a giant, fleshy blimp. The writing is also consistently, unrelentingly hilarious.

The book contains one paragraph so brilliantly funny that I immediately stopped what I was doing, called a friend, and read it aloud over the phone. In the opening lines of chapter thirteen, Slater sets the scene of a quiet residential street (“an oasis, safe and suburban, tucked far away from the city’s most dangerous and unpredictable neighbourhoods”), his idyllic description just occasionally cut with unease (“the perfect place to build a life, if one were not dying”), before zeroing in on the focus of the passage: “the mostly naked shrieking man with the gaping, gory head wound now rolling around like he was being consumed by invisible ants.”

My favourite scenes are the ones where James Watson is removed from his insular world, his colleagues and neighbours responding to his hysterics with a combination of disgust and acceptance, as if they’ve been dealing with his bizarre behaviour for so long that it just seems normal. It reminded me of the side characters forced to interact with Tommy Wiseau’s off-putting mortician in Greg Sestero’s surreal Best F(r)iends saga.

I also enjoyed the all-too brief appearances of dashing architect Einar Kjolaas, who swoops into the besieged offices of MotherLove Incorporated and delays the inevitable just long enough to steal Jimmy’s wife.

Fusing half a dozen genres and just as many contradictory moods, Impossible James feels like a thoroughly demented experiment. It’s a fun and freaky read.

Title: Impossible James

Author: Danger Slater

Publisher: Fungasm Press

Year: 2019

Order it here.

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