What I’ve Been Reading: “He” by Jon Konrath

Kim came up with the idea for us to take a couple weeks to talk about books we’d been reading recently as opposed to our usual lists. She went through a couple, but I’m only going to talk about one: He by Jon Konrath.

Part of this is that I don’t think anywhere near enough people are familiar with Konrath. I’ve read quite a bit: Fistful of Pizza, Summer Rain, The Memory Hunter, Rumored to Exist, Sleep Has No Master, The Earworm Inception, Thunderbird, and Atmospheres. That should tell you quite a bit about what I think of Konrath as a writer, but also should tell you I’m in a good position to evaluate He in context of Konrath’s writing in general. Both parts are involved in why I want to talk about the book, as well as part being the fact that the book intrigued me.

Konrath has done some good realism and some good science fiction, but his work really shines for me when it gets strange. This is the main body of his work, wild and aggressively humorous streams that connect pop culture elements (almost in a jazz-like fashion of semi-formlessness and repeated themes such as NyQuil, Maria Carey, fried foods, collectibles, old computers, Lunchables, and so on) logically and seemingly randomly together while painting absurd yet accurate depictions of the modern American consciousness. Not perhaps quite stream of consciousness in the context of the author’s consciousness or the consciousness of a character, it’s almost more a core sample of the mishmash the collective unconscious has surely become in the face of modern information overload.

Some of Konrath’s works (such as Fistful of Pizza, Sleep Has No Master, The Earworm Inception, and Thunderbird) are full of shorter pieces that do this on a microcosm scale. The most interesting for me though (such Rumored to Exist and Atmospheres) form a full novel arc out of these streams. That’s incredibly difficult to do, but Konrath has managed to pull it off with inventiveness and energy. This can also be a little challenging for people who don’t already get it or who don’t read far enough in for it all to dawn on them.

He is a little different from either of these two areas of Konrath’s bizarre writings. In this one, Konrath is experimenting with bringing more structure to the thread within the million screaming voices. He is a book with an overarching arc, but it is assembled in the form of 100 intertwined micro-fictions. It goes all over the place, keeping true to Konrath’s more strange and mass media brain dump techniques, but it keeps the sections in bite size chunks, individualization within a mass homogenization, deviance wedded with conformity (that might not make any sense, but oh well). It interested me as a reader who likes grappling with Konrath’s more challenging stuff, but it also seems like it’s going to be easier for newer readers to understand what Konrath is really doing.

Let’s take a look:

He smashed the McDonald’s window into spider-webbed pieces with an Avengers commemorative Thor sledgehammer from an AM/PM convenience store, pushing the large pane of laminated safety glass into the restaurant. The hammer pounding attack sounded like the percussion track from a forgotten Kraftwerk album, echoing through the ghetto neighborhood at top volume.

“Bring back the McRib or I will fuck you up!” he screamed, spinning in circles with the eight-pound sledge extended at arm’s length like a demented helicopter rotor blade. “Bring back the McRib! Bring back the McDLT! Keep the hot side hot! You mother fucking secret Muslims can’t keep us down! We will not stand for the unchecked aggression of our cold side getting hot and vice-versa!”

That just gives a taste, but I think it illustrates what I’m saying pretty well. I’d like to give more to demonstrate this all more completely, but I don’t want to give away too much of the book.

It’s weird, it’s strange, it’s funny (guaranteed to offend almost everybody at least once somewhere along the line or double your money back presuming you overpaid by four times for the book to begin with and bought the book before the 1972 cut off date for this offer), and it’s an engaging read. All these He’s, as I read I really think that in drawing them as bizarre and impossible individuals Konrath has managed to capture and convey the macrocosm essence of what it feels like to be living in this country right now.

Those who already know Konrath picked up on this one pretty fast (based on me and the others I’ve seen). If word gets around though, I have to think we’ll have some new people joining us. It’s some good stuff and more people ought to know about it.

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