Review: The Great Lover by Michael Cisco

Sunday, July 3, 2011

When you step inside Michael Cisco’s world, don’t just expect the unexpected. Rather, brace yourself. Cisco’s themes, ideas, and imagery are so thoroughly exotic that they verge on posing an existential danger. Nowhere is this clearer than in his most recent release, The Great Lover, a lengthy novel published by the enterprising Chomu Press. Wedged between an atmosphere of rich dereliction and an uncanny style is a treatise on the modern, the vampiric, death, and the élan vital. Uncovering these nuggets of pure thought requires effort, but the psychic mining is worthwhile.

In previous novels like The Tyrant, Michael Cisco’s ideological and stylistic ancestry reflects Franz Kafka, as well as masters of strangeness such as Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, and David Lynch. This aesthetic heritage is even more evident in his short story collection, Secret Hours. However, the new work is a different organism altogether. It seems that Cisco’s Great Lover is more than a deranged anti-hero. He is a representation of the author’s own progression, breaking free from the orbit of the greats, and soaring off into truly original territory.

Prosthetic Libido, Prosthetic Characters, and Prosthetic Styles

Whatever criticism or praise may be leveled about The Great Lover, everyone must recognize its abundant originality. Cisco’s diverse characters strike a fantastic chord from the beginning. We are introduced to the Great Lover, the novel’s titular character, who is a strange entity never before seen in any horror fiction or outside of it. He is one part sewer dwelling tramp, and the other part intellectual invader. The Great Lover dwells in the mind, in the coffin, and in the other people’s dreams. Does he breach boundaries between worlds, or serve as proof that disparate realities are actually the same? Cisco doesn’t provide a definitive answer, but the awesome mystery posed by the Great Lover’s existence is just one of the book’s mighty offerings.

Curiously, Michael Cisco takes a turn toward Frankenstein and science fiction with the Prosthetic Libido. This strange and lustful being is an android designed to quarantine a work obsessed scientist’s lust, on the surface. However, throughout the narrative, the Prosthetic Libido seems like so much more. After human lust is introduced into a dead, blank human facsimile, Cisco presents the ultimate dichotomy. The Prosthetic Libido is an effective walking philosophical quandary, eradicating the boundaries between inanimate deadness and the chief driving force behind most organic beings.

Staying caged within stylistic traditions doesn’t appeal to Michael Cisco very much either. The Great Lover is his literary escape pod. He disregards traditional narrative structures with courage and recklessness, and the results are mixed. At times, Cisco’s weaving between tenses, points of view, and first and third person is disorienting. Yet, many readers will adjust due to the novel’s length, as Cisco temporarily rewires our brains to perceive his story as he does. It’s as though we are all prosthetic puppets artfully crafted to adapt to Cisco’s experimental style, serving as vessels for his alien scripture. Like all little puppets, some will cooperate happily, while others will resist the author’s extra-literary influence.

Cisco’s Horrors of the Mind

Somewhere, deep in a landscape dotted with art museums and literary laboratories, the real purpose of The Great Lover takes shape. Cisco’s book explores bizarre, often opposed themes fearlessly. Like a barely charted jungle, well defined paths and crumbling shrines within the novel are too numerous and hidden to define with precision. Instead, Cisco’s novel leaves a distinct aftertaste of lush contrasts.

Defying life and death, epitomized by the Great Lover, the Prosthetic Libido, and a host of other offbeat characters, stands out most clearly. Perhaps, in a tradition coursing through weird fiction and found in academic philosophy’s gutters, Michael Cisco wishes to tear off our neat glasses and shatter them on the ground. By wrecking the distinctions between living and dead beings, macabre vermin ridden sewers and subway cults, the Prosthetic and the natural, we see the nature of reality as it actually is, however blurry. Though this novel could fit neatly in a course on Modernism and Post-Modernism as required reading, walking away with bland numbness rather than existential, uncanny chills isn’t possible.

Book by book, tale by tale, Michael Cisco is quickly becoming an intellectual godfather of weird fiction. He isn’t H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, or Franz Kafka. Just like the supernatural cloud cover and heady ideas overflowing from The Great Lover, it’s impossible to neatly describe Cisco’s literary career. However, he shows no sign of slowing as he advances toward his unknown destination, and by gaining Cyclopean mass, his wake may pull all of us into the ether with him.

-Grim Blogger

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