Book Review : Michael Allen Rose - Boiled Americans (2015)
Whoever said: "don't judge a book by its cover" was out of his goddamn mind. Have you looked at this bad boy? I mean LOOK AT IT. What a gorgeous creation by Matthew Revert. I knew nothing about Boiled Americans and its author Michael Allen Rose and requested a review copy from the killer artwork alone, so proverbs can suck it. So, was Boiled Americans good? The short answer to this question would be yes, but it wouldn't be quite accurate. It's not a book that's meant to be "good" or "entertaining." Boiled Americans is a kaleidoscopic collage of transgressive vignettes meant to challenge conventional storytelling. What the hell does it even mean? Well, let's get into it.
So yeah, Boiled Americans doesn't have a conventional narrative. Depending on who you're speaking to, it might make you doubt there's a narrative at all. I believe there is one, though. It simply doesn't deliver itself to you. Something happened in the streets of Chicago. People are turning up in emergency rooms and morgues of the city with bullet wounds. People. Typical Americans. Not even someone you could call a protagonist. So what happened exactly? Good luck trying to figure it out. Author Michael Allen Rose constantly interrupts the flow of reports with different vignettes that range from abstract shape poetry to short stage plays. The further you progress in Boiled Americans, it starts dawning upon the readership that the attacks maybe not what the book is about after all. At least, not entirely. It's complicated.
The overarching theme of Boiled Americans is the normalization of violence. The constant interruptions from the alluded mass shooting are meant to trivialize it and challenge your senses. The very form of Michael Allen Rose's book is a metacommentary on overmediated information: it's impossible to gain a good grasp of anything if you're constantly assaulted by other information on other, unrelated subjects in the meantime. Perhaps my favorite thing about Boiled Americans is violence sneaks into distraction vignettes as it goes along. Before you know it, the book evolves from abstract shape poetry, vague conspiracy theories and animal allegories to gun-shaped poetry and the nutritional merits of cannibalism. The book made its point unconventionally perhaps, but the effect was powerful nonetheless.
There is an entire metafictional aspect to Boiled Americans, which I believe to be important also. The de facto protagonist of this novel Segundo Morris only appears in the metafictional interludes and Michael Allen Rose makes it anything but clear he is his doppelganger. His avatar if you will. Which leads me to the religious discourse of Boiled Americans, another variable that sneaks up on you as you keep reading. I believe violence, religion and metafiction are intertwined here. Metatrons, which are referred to as dividers and fixers of boundaries in Judaism, start appearing in the victim reports at some point. They threaten the boundaries between reality and fiction, which lead the author to get involved in his novel through Segundo Morris and bend whatever expectation you had of Boiled Americans. I also believe it served as another metacommentary on religion as a potentially noxious coping mechanism. It's comforting, but it eventually affect your sense of reality and might lead you to commit more violence.
Did that make any sense at all? Boiled Americans is a book that's difficult to talk about because it is all over the place and I mean this in the best possible way. It's not a book that you can appreciate conventionally, but then again, few book published by the bold and ambitious Bizarro Pulp Press are. The keys to Boiled Americans are its in metacommentary. It does not directly condemn violence, but instead scans your reaction to the deceitful process of normalization and cooptation by religion. It's quite short (153 pages), but believe me, you'll be intellectually exhausted by the time it's over. Michael Allen Rose's Boiled Americans is an introspective, cerebral and demanding read, but it also is a rewarding one. If you're looking for straightforward entertainment, I would suggest to stay away but if you're looking to challenge yourself, it definitely is worth a try.