Sunday, March 16, 2008


Reading Jason Tanamor’s second novel, Anonymous, I am reminded of the passage from Homer’s Odyssesy in which Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, the Cyclops who has been eating the wandering hero’s crew. Before blinding the Cyclops, Odysseus says that his name is “Outis,” which translates to “no man” or “nobody.” As a result, when Polyphemus is blinded, his cries for help go largely ignored by his countrymen, who have more than a little bit of trouble understanding the one-eyed giant’s cries that “nobody” has attacked him. Thus, in a series of deft moves, Odysseus demonstrates the power of anonymity, a power which Tanamor explores throughout his appropriately titled Anonymous. Yet where Homer is content to present us with a single hero whose anonymity is only temporary, Tanamor presents an entire cast of nameless characters whose anonymity remains intact throughout the entire novel. As a result, we never know where we stand with these characters, and we’re never quite sure who to trust. Not that this is a bad thing. Reveling in the vagaries of unreliable narration, Tanamor proves himself a master of the existential mystery: the question is never whodunit, but who is the “who,” and how do we know that the “it” ever really got done?

While Tanamor’s writing may find its deepest roots in classical mythology, the most palpable spirit haunting Anonymous is that of Chuck Palahniuk. The novel is dedicated to “Chucky P,” and every page drips with Palahniuk’s unflinching fascination with the grotesque and disturbing-yet-true details of life in postmodern America. Moreover, the structure of Anonymous closely follows that of Haunted, Palahniuk’s disquieting parade of mangled freaks and the vices that frequently lead to their undoing. Where Palahniuk uses the occasion of a writers’ retreat to give his own unreliable narrators an opportunity to show off their prowess at cock-and-bull one-upmanship, Tanamor’s storytellers find themselves in jail, pleading their cases to one another through a network of drainpipes and empty toilet bowls. There’s “Unknown,” the con artist imprisoned for impersonating Brad Pitt’s manager. There’s “Ambiguous,” who killed his own child as payback for his wife's infidelity. There’s “Nose,” who insists he’s not psychotic. And then there’s the unnamed narrator of the novel who obsesses constantly over the woman who gave him herpes. They all have reasons for doing what they’ve done, they all have an astounding capacity for rationalizing the worst of crimes, and they all have stories to tell.

If there’s one criticism I have of Anonymous, it’s that I wish the book had been typeset professionally—or at least with a stronger eye for design. Set in what appears to be double- or perhaps 1.5-spaced Times New Roman, the book has a self-published appearance that may deter the casual reader from further investigating Tanamor’s prose. Tighter spacing, a less-common typeface (like Baskerville or Bodoni), and slightly smaller indentations at the start of each paragraph would go a long way toward giving this novel a more professional sheen. Aesthetic concerns aside, however, fans of Chuck Palahniuk (and especially of Haunted) will find a kindred spirit in Jason Tanamor.

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