Book Review : Grant Wamack - Notes from the Guts of a Hippo (2013)
Truth has always been wildly overrated. Sure, it's been the measuring stick of righteousness since the dawn of time but imagine if, let's say Abraham Lincoln, got his iPhone hacked and emails leaked? It would bring the world nothing except the knowledge that the most important founding father of America wasn't nice and virtuous all the time. Myths are a vital part of any advanced civilization. They're a motor for evolution. Author, rapper and multifaceted artist Grant Wamack tackled the power and importance of myths in his debut novella Notes from the Guts of a Hippo, a disorienting and surreal deconstruction of the journalistic process.
Notes from the Guts of a Hippo is the story of Jay Robbins, a disgraced journalist called upon by his old editor for a mysterious assignment: find Patrick Little, the world's foremost expert in hippopotamus research, who recently disappeared in freakin' Brazil of all places. Little was investigating a mythical breed of hippo named Lastiz when he dropped from the face of the Earth. So, Jay does what any life journalist would've. He jumps on the first plane to Brazil and takes a swan dive at the heart of the mystery. Neither Little, the Lastiz or Brazil itself are ready to deliver their secrets to a foreign journalist, though and Jay will have to fight for every inch in the strange and hostile jungle.
The most interesting aspect of Notes from the Guts of a Hippo was, to me, the juxtaposition of classic, Hemingwayesque storytelling and bizarro elements. The book is somewhat of a contemporary retelling of Joseph Conrad's iconic novella Heart of Darkness with elements of a Lost Highway-era David Lynch's imaginary. For example, there aren't many Brazilians in Grant Wamack's Brazil. It's more of a nightmare tropical landscape featuring a (literally) disembodied guide, hired killers and the rare scattered local who always speaks perfect English. Notes from the Guts of a Hippo reminded me of Dante's Inferno too, another literary classic about going to hell for a purpose other than damnation. The book begins with its feet set in reality and literary tradition, but where does it lead exactly?
It's an excellent question. Grant Wamack's Notes from the Guts of a Hippo wickedly subverts classic storytelling through dream causality. The big theme here is that stories, myths and events are asynchronous. They never add up to an homogeneous product. The reality we know and appreciate is shaped by our media consumption and journalist often have to rearrange frustrating, nonsensical in order to create accessible stories. That's why I referred to Notes from the Guts of a Hippo as a deconstruction of the journalistic process in the introduction. It's anything but a straightforward story. Wamack bombards you with different elements, pulls you in every direction and the work of putting everything together is (almost) entirely yours. The reader creates the text as much as Robbins or Wamack does, as (s)he's creating meaning from the avalanche of events and symbols.
Notes from the Guts of a Hippo reminded me of Bound 2, one of my favorite Kanye West videos. It's a savage dare. An open challenge to the comfortable habits of Occidental readers. For sure, media is shaping our understanding of reality, but the way we read without questioning motives and perspective is as important and defining as the stories are. Notes from the Guts of a Hippo is not linguistically arduous per se, but it's not an easy nut to crack by any means. It's a witty, cunning and cerebral novella that offers multiple layers of enjoyment that challenges the entire foundation of reader/writer relationship. I've enjoyed the hell out of it, but I'm always up for a good challenge and so should you if you decide to pick this bad boy up. File this in the not easy, but rewarding column.