stories, by D. Harlan Wilson
ISBN 978-0-9931955-8-7. 1st edition. Paperback. Publication date: October 2018. Equus Press: London. Price: € 12.00 (not including postage).
In the late 1960s, J.G. Ballard levied a fierce critique against the then-new phenomenon of media politics, populating the “condensed novels” of The Atrocity Exhibition with such real-life fictionalised characters as Jacqueline Kennedy, JFK, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Ronald Reagan (whom his protagonist wanted to fuck). He fashioned an insane main character: a doctor at a mental hospital who himself surrenders to a world of psychosis. Ballard vied for a scandal and managed to cause one.
50 years later, D. Harlan Wilson’s Natural Complexions explores the dynamics of contemporary American media pathology and resorts to similar formal strategies. Wilson collects satirical vignettes and docufictions extrapolated from actual news stories, spam emails, advertisements, social networks, and other scraps of disposable infotainment. There’s little need for fictionalising here, as in 2018, there’s no fiction more fictional than the “real.” Through the interactions of over 100 characters, among them movie stars, ex-presidents, televangelists, motivational speakers, con artists, back-alley philosophers, forensics experts and Biblical kings, Wilson’s book faithfully renders the absurdist spiritus mundi that galvanizes the cultural landscape. In contemporary America, you don’t get to fuck the president, but the president sure as hell gets to fuck you. Wilson’s protagonist, a mysterious trickster named Brian Gonka, haunts the pages of the narrative like a machinic ghost. No need to surrender to psychosis here—sanity is no longer an option.
Natural Complexions is a biting satire on modern life as lived online and virtually more than here and now, saturated by media idiocy and the closed circuits of celebrity status at every turn. Its masterful combination of hilarity and eeriness functions as a 21st-century upgrade of the Kafkaesque—both in its compressed epigraphic form and in its obsession with the (im)possibilities of the sacred. Is Wilson’s book vying for a scandal? What would that, in 2018 America, even mean?
“A sharp report from the madhouse is always a joy. Wilson’s prose is exquisitely precise and his humor relentlessly unpredictable. Only two other authors have made me laugh out loud so often: William S. Burroughs and Spike Milligan. Natural Complexions is a very funny, very smart book.” —Malcolm NcNeill, author of Tetra and Ah Pook Is Here
“An author in the revolutionary tradition, which he’s unafraid to satarise
as venomously as every other.” —”Louis Armand, author of The Combinations