Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tex and Molly in the Afterlife

Middle-aged hipsters Tex and Molly drive a rusty Saab and live in a houseboat whose decor falls "somewhere between Hiawatha and Jimi Hendrix."

They've donned Bear and Raven costumes to celebrate Beltane, a pagan planting festival, along with a group of ecology-minded strolling players. Afterwards they smoke up and visit a boulder formation – left by Druids, Tex insists – in the middle of which is a bottomless well.

Perhaps not the best place to go when you’re stoned, a fact amply demonstrated when they both fall to their deaths.

End of book? Nope, we’re only on page 19.

Tex and Molly managed to invoke a pair of ancient deities as they fell. Now they awaken back at their houseboat and hang around for a while as spirits, in the course of which they become acquainted with the designs of a large corporation to turn the forests of Maine into a monoculture using a genetically modified tree, the "Dawkins spruce".

What follows is a rambling, hugely entertaining tale that veers between the scientific and the magical. The writing is clever, literate, and whimsical both in form and content, incorporating headings, stage directions, lists and diagrams, "afterlife factoids," bits of verse, chunks of playscript, and the narration from a corporate slide show.

If you like Cheech and Chong, you'll like Tex. He's delightfully unfazed by the various deities he meets, including a "Primal Entity" known as the Bishop of Worms, who according to Tex is missing the big picture, without which "It's the roomful of monkeys with typewriters all over again." The Bishop responds by devouring him.

But it's still not the end because Tex is already dead, right? And we're not even halfway through the book. Tex wakes up in a squirrel's nest. He's an acorn.

You could see the roots of the yew tree overhead, swollen with vital humors they were pumping around, and huge flakes of leaf mold, rotten wood disgorged by beetles, worm castings, fractally intricate fungi, nematodes squirming through the gaps, and a ceaseless oozing of dark teeming water.

Partial List of Characters

This sampling gives a good idea of the book's comic, semi-serious intent.

1. Cold Bay Street Players:

Rainie Moss – a shade gardener
Deep Herb – a Taoist waiter
Pippa Rede – a welfare witch
Sarah Clump – a self-realized electrician
Indigo Jones – a community radio station manager

2. Other Humans:

Syzygy Prague – "some kind of gypsy"
Jesse Openhood – a Passamaquoddy Indian
Burdock Herne – Gulf Atlantic's CEO
Thistle Herne – his runaway daughter
Saintstephen Bax & Shadow Malqvist – teenage eco-hackers
Hoot Banebook – reverend at the Church of Mankind’s Destiny Among the Stars

3. Non-Humans:

Idho – a yew woman
Beale – a homeless dryad
Goblin the Cat-person – Tex and Molly’s cat
Neman & Arth Vawr - raven and bear deities invoked by Tex and Molly
Bishop of Worms – "sort of like a cross between a white hole and that thing in Dune"

Cultural References

A lot of the fun comes from the many references to music (the band Love being a particular favourite), books (Tibetan Book of the Dead, of course), and cultish consumer items ("frankincense from India imported by the good sidhas of Farifield, Iowa"), as well as quotes, signs, aphorisms, bumper stickers, and loopy sayings:

Hack the rich.
I'm OK, You're DOA.
Quoth the raven: "Never mind."
The antichrist always rings twice.
Agriculture is mechanized land-rape.
If you don't like it, you can't have any.
Randomness is a statistical hallucination.
Beatrix Farrand Memorial Refrigerator Walk.
Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.
Ban firearms – make the streets safe for a government takeover.

The End

The only thing I didn't dig about the book was the rather apocalyptic ending, but that hasn't stopped me from eagerly seeking out more books by the author. It also reminded me of somewhat similar books: The Paper Grail by James P. Blaylock, The Magic Journey by John Nichols, and Little, Big by John Crowley -- all of which I highly recommend.

Let me leave you with a final quote:

Beale spat into the dust of the roadside. Where the saliva spattered on the gravel, a tiny seedling sprouted, grew rapidly, fattened and matured, spread its limbs, showered acorns, began to decline, rotted, and vanished.