Title: The Gospel of Anarchy
Author: Justin Taylor
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “In landlocked Gainesville, Florida, in the hot, fraught summer of 1999, a college dropout named David sleepwalks through his life—a dull haze of office work and Internet porn—until a run-in with a lost friend jolts him from his torpor. He is drawn into the vibrant but grimy world of Fishgut, a rundown house where a loose collective of anarchists, burnouts, and libertines practice utopia outside society and the law. Some even see their lifestyle as a spiritual calling. They watch for the return of a mysterious hobo who will—they hope—transform their punk oasis into the Bethlehem of a zealous, strange new creed.”
Thoughts: When asked by someone earlier to discuss The Gospel of Anarchy, the most lucid thought I had was to describe it as interesting. The plot is virtual non-existent, and the writing embodies anarchy itself. It is confusing, slightly disturbing, and more philosophical than I expected. Yet, in the end is somehow works. It is a novel that forces one to confront one’s own biases and expectations of society. It is not one to be read quickly but rather to be enjoyed slowly, evaluating every word and phrase. It draws some unusual conclusions and presents some disturbing images but makes for a decent novel.
Call it my own failings, but I was not prepared for a book that was actually about anarchy. I thought the title was more allegorical; it is not. Once I got over this initial surprise, the story evolves into an exploration of each character’s own struggles to find meaning in his or her life. Some follow blindly, with no doubts whatsoever. Others think they understand but find out they do not. Some characters are utterly sympathetic, while others are not. The result is a wild ride through the chaotic world of Fishgut.
Mr. Taylor evokes the spirit of anarchy in his writing. He switches tenses and characters without any warning. Sometimes, he flows into a stream-of-consciousness effect, while other scenes are terse and simplistic. If anything helps one understand what it means to be anarchist, Mr. Taylor’s writing in this novel is a great example of making a point not to be bound by the rules of writing.
The Gospel of Anarchy starts out strong, unfortunately fades towards the end and yet finishes strongly. Its failings are that it simply becomes too preachy. When Mr. Taylor focuses on Parker’s writings rather than on the actual characters, the story itself loses steam. The novel works best when the reader gets the opportunity to delve into each character.
The Gospel of Anarchy is not for everyone. In his effort to present anarchy and its teachings, Mr. Taylor pushes the boundaries of comfortable reading, leaving even the most open-minded reader squirming in one’s seat. Chaotic and at times confusing, he quickly delves into this particular subculture and its exploration of everything and anything. Through the characters’ questioning and searching, the reader gets the opportunity to explore his or her own opinions on faith, on politics, and on what it means to follow the rules. For those who can handle the sometimes explicit descriptions and heavily philosophical discussions, The Gospel of Anarchy is a great novel to get someone thinking. I suspect that for a majority of people, however, it is one to skip.
Thank you to Erica Barmash of Harper Perennial for my review copy!