stories, by D. Harlan Wilson
ISBN 978-0-9931955-8-7. 1st edition. Paperback. Publication date: October 2018. 80 pp. Equus Press: London.
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 high-concept literary experiment full of miniature gems that reveal the strange crevices in our perception of reality. Cynical, mostly violent, and rife with gallows humor for an age where a racist game show host can become president of the United States. Like flipping through TV channels or scrolling through a social media feed, Natural Complexions is a collage of atrocities, hilarity, and satire. Tonal whiplash and surrealist visions collide with tabloid garishness & perception drift.”—Karl Wolff, Driftless Area Review
“The world of Natural Complexions is built on the Burroughsian and Ballardian tradition of piecemeal narratives and transgressive prose. D. Harlan Wilson boldly delves into the bizarre, fully embracing it. Confusingly sharp prose and wonderfully efficient use of language lets him comment on the Baudrillard’s media politics, capital punishment, and celebrity all in the space of a couple of paragraphs. If that is not the frontline of literature – I don’t have a clue what is. […] This is speculative fiction at its best, fulfilling its function and going the extra mile.”—Alex Khlopenko, Three Crows Magazine
“Natural Complexions is a laugh riot that also makes you feel a bit sick, and you can’t ask for more than that in a book. I look forward to tracking down more of Wilson’s writing and I’m glad there are publishers out there like Equus Press who make sure that such writing can still make its way into the hands of prurient reviewers like me. […] Natural Complexions is a meditation on the boundary-pushing, rude and raucous style of writing that we label ‘transgressive’ with the subterranean element of small presses and zines, performance poets and conceptual artists who all help to keep transgression alive during those downtimes, like the present, when the toleration of outside voices does not extend to the chaotic, the nihilistic, or the flippant.”—Joe Darlington, Manchester Review of Books
“In all of Wilson’s stories, as in real life, there is potential violence lurking within and without, a force that may suddenly erupt and incinerate anything and everything in its wake.”—Perdam Navab, Entropy
“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)
“In these exquisite flares of literary highwire, D. Harlan Wilson corkscrews facts into helixes of strange that feel realer than truth.”—Matthew Roberson (author of List)
“D. Harlan Wilson’s vignettes sometimes read like news reports from a Fortean America, sometimes read like the dream journals of daytime television personalities, but are always disconcertingly and hilariously connected to the present… reality. Wilson explains how a mysterious tornado can get a shoplifter cleared of charges, an ill-advised selfie can set your world on fire, and discovering the sixth person pronoun can revive a celebrity’s career. In each case the stories he tells are both absurd and true.”—Douglas Lain (author of After the Saucers Landed)
“An author in the revolutionary tradition, which he’s unafraid to satirise as venomously as every other.”—Louis Armand (author of The Combinations)