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A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds Paperback – January 1, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

Review

This is not about new utopias but the creation of small worlds planetoids that the magic of the writing lets you be absorbed in to the point that you may want to stay among their people although they re a parody of the human. It is hilariously funny. Mac Wellman s wonderful imagination blurs reality and fiction so skillfully that one is disoriented enough to be mesmerized, and down to earth enough to realize that our world is just one among many possible worlds, and not much more than that. --Etel Adnan

In Mac Wellman's universe, a radish can be used as an eye, a young girl can fall in love with a toucan, and some folks still use faxes. Best known for his experimental plays, Wellman has also published four volumes of poetry and three novels works describing self-contained worlds that question our cultural preoccupations and assumptions. His latest book continues this practice: A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds is a collection of short stories or, as the author would have it, an interconnected series of planetoids that, while comically inventive, rings with the sound of our contemporary moment. Add the alchemical wordplay of Lewis Carroll and the satiric geometry of Edwin Abbott to Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics, and you'll have some idea of what Wellman has done here. Chronicle is a daunting and subversive rumination on the relationship between how we live and the language we use when we do so. One narrator asks, Isn t the strangest fact about a world always something which does not exist in its language? Indeed, Wellman, who has cited H. L. Mencken's study The American Language as an influence, probes boundaries between the spoken and the written. He torques words into strange new arrangements that become fantastic linguistic realms in themselves: The narrator on Mitake-Mura exclaims, I stand, scrolled up before you, glittering in my seven sapphires, runcinates of leaf chicory, Zoathra and tegumenta of Zanzibar gold hammered so thin it trembles. These word-worlds are absurd and meditative: On Wu World Woo, every inhabitant is named Mary Carnivorous Rabbit, and the narrator on Muazzez asks, Do all my dreams take place while I am asleep? Reading these stories at times resembles its own kind of madness. The planet Linda Susan dissolves into a collection of symbols, words, and numbers, the first fragment of which reads simply: . . . X{Y}. If the text itself is frequently elusive, such moments are meant to evoke estrangement. Wee Elmer, after all, is the kind of place where folks go when they've given up all hope of finding a meaning to the empty riddle of their old lives. One planet, shaped like a Klein bottle, is mirrored in a romantic relationship on another, Sawyer Hogg: Our embraces involved us in postures so extreme they caused one to doubt the natural order . . . unable to sort out which was whose and how we interracted. The Klein bottle is a three-dimensional object formed as a closed surface with only one side (a bit like the two-dimensional Mobius strip), and in Chronicle, it implies the possibility of a limitless existence. An author's note states that all of the worlds described herein are real. . . . The prophecy of Eulalia [the Greek name meaning to speak well ], referred to throughout this volume, is simply the notion that all these strange, miniature worlds were originally part of one, larger, and presumably happier place. Wellman's unique ability to make viable the impossible proposes, perhaps, that one larger, happier place may still somehow be possible. --Stefanie Sobelle, Bookforum

Wellman, long known on the New York scene as an innovative dramatist, here provides a series of narratives discontinuous in both subject and meaning, yet undergirded by a vertebral jauntiness in the ability of language to still matter after all its customary props have been denied it. By writing coherent sentences that yet use phony, concocted, or deliberately absurd referents, which in turn do not carry over even from paragraph to paragraph, Wellman satisfies both our urge to read along and our dissatisfaction with merely mimetic or illusionistic tableaux. Citing 'bong farmers' and 'postmodern critical theory' on the same page, Wellman's travesty of reference sends up the many books that are bolstered by such reference from three-dimensional realism to encyclopedic experimentalism. Wellman's ways of worldmaking exult in the way the writer creates new worlds without regard to whether or not they 'really' exist, but also mocking the allure of preferentiality for writers who use it to fix reality and provide pleasing detail in a way that short-circuits the imaginative reach of their texts e.g. 'The Name That Was Too Much.' He is a sensible, forthright game-player with a subversive if stalwart temperament. As names, Z'hung, El Pez de Fuma, and Twin Donuts all jangle together, and the sound-clusters that lie beneath customary usage but that we usually actively resist are allowed full play. 'Another lemma of Gemma's dilemma' or calques of phrases, such as, not World War Two (or World Wide Web), but 'Wu World Woo.' Science fiction, exoticism, and parody are used to defamiliarize, yet are also defamiliarized, as Wellman makes them no less solid or more preposterous than that which is usually taken as reality. The third world from the sun is one of many worlds whose madness Wellman congenially and steadily reveals. --Nicholas Birns, The Review of Contemporary Fiction

From the Publisher

"This is not about new utopias but the creation of small worlds - planetoids - that the magic of the writing lets you be absorbed in to the point that you may want to stay among their people although they're a parody of the human. It is hilariously funny. Mac Wellman's wonderful imagination blurs reality and fiction so skillfully that one is disoriented enough to be mesmerized, and down to earth enough to realize that our world is just one among many possible worlds, and not much more than that."-- Etel Adnan

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A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds
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