So when the streetcar slammed hard into something and the people were screaming and there was the falling and more of the screaming and copies of The Idiot were drifting in a pretentious snow around him, he was kind of relieved. What with everyone falling to the floor and the tumbling out the gaping hole where the front of the car used to be, he seemed to be the only one left holding on to the pole. He took a second to savour his victory. The Chinese guy was nowhere to be seen. He looked out at the park and saw that the deformed dog had escaped and was chasing cats, while rabbit girl had come to rest in a furry, flopsy lump on the floor. The nurse – Derek – reached down to give the bunny a hand to get to her feet, but the hand pulled right away from her little bunny sleeve in a gush of blood. Despite both his medical training and his loathing of the stereotypes of 19th Century Russian literature, he followed a brief spate of vomiting with some serious falling down.
I’m not sure it says good things about me that I found this novella hilarious. It is dark, absurd and very, very strange. Apparently that’s just my cup of tea. Several different story arcs, in two different times, somehow weave themselves around each other until they’re braided in a nice, satisfying rope connecting this nightmare world to some kind of recognisable reality.
Here’s a thing. I love novellas. I think they’re so underrated. This one is a complicated tale, at a satisfying lazy Sunday type length. This year’s Seizure Viva La Novella winners – Formaldehyde, Marlee Jane Ward’s Welcome to Orphancorp and Christy Collins’ The End of Seeing – are the first novellas I’ve bought in hard copy and it’s even more satisfying just because of their slender, put in your back pocket size.
Rawson’s winning novella is funny in the darkest, driest way possible. I laughed out loud and I was confused and I was shocked and a little bit sad. It’s surprising, quietly political and has a freshness that I enjoyed so much. I don’t know what it says about me that I have on occasion considered walking into another room and lopping a limb off, because damn everybody, but you know, that kind of thing is only for fiction. I’m glad Rawson gave voice to this kind of absurdism because she did a great job.
Formaldehyde, Jane Rawson: 5 stars.
Read it: on your commute. And pray for no severed limbs.