Upon tripping over the word "panopticon"--a sly nod to Foucault?--in Engel's new book, readers might be forgiven for moving on, hearing in the author's academic jargon the murmurs of an unemployed graduate studenttrying to find a venue for his condescension. They would be wrong to do so, however, for while the book is learned, hyper-complex and full of stylistic acrobatics, it is also quite good. Little needs to be said, or can be said of the plot of what the author has dubbed a "modular novel." Engel sets readers down in a dystopic metropolis called "The City." (Engel capitalizes all the menacing institutional forces in the novel; we also have "The Nation," "The Corporation," "The Database" and "The Network.") At the book's center--if readers can find it--is Plantman, a former ad exec who flees the corporate world to work for Topiary Techniques, a company devoted to the care of indoor plants primarily housed in office buildings. Plantman's journey through the labyrinthine "City" is as difficult to describe as it is engrossing, and its twists and turns are best left to readers,though they must exercise patience. Engel's prose style is indeed demanding, recalling the experimentalism of postmodern literary tricksters like Pynchon or, later, David Foster Wallace. He fires his prose in machine-gun bursts that occasionally--and sometimes detrimentally--resemble text messages in their ragged brevity. At other times, while traveling through the more arid portions of his prose, readers will wish for a descriptive oasis. But Engel pushes on, painting his frightening landscape with obsessive grace, and readers will be compelled to follow.
Grim and experimental, but worth the effort. --Kirkus Discoveries
Not all writers are artists, but with Topiary Adam Engel shows himself to be a true artist. He compellingly plays with form, meaning, the sounds and shapes of words, story, character, politics, morals, ethics, philosophy. This book is a large leap forward not only for philosophy but for the literary arts. Thank you Adam Engel. --Derrick Jensen, author of A LANGUAGE OLDER THAN WORDS, THE CULTURE OF MAKE BELIEVE and ENDGAME
Topiary's Plantman incarnates in the City of the Near Future as Keeper & Protector of office greenery. He waters and trims and tries to sustain the sad life of "corporate flora" in the cubicles of tall huge busy dead buildings where only money lives. As in the Grail myths, the whole planet is Wasteland. On a dying planet, the pure knight searches for the Holy Grail. Who is The Missing Girl. (Grail and Grrrl throughout Western literature are variants of the same thing.)
Plantman, of his nature, in daily life and work encounters "trials" which are the collisions of a death-binge culture with creatures born alive into manufactured terms. Each character and situation is condensed saga, a handful of seeds. Plantman's terrain compacts the modern techno-dilemma in its recurrent mythic guise: The University of Vigor & Ambition, The Hall of Hoaxes with its resident Giant Hoax, The Indian Museum, The Museum of Women. Within the city's cynical parody of "culture" real agony occurs: the Possessed Man (a brilliant update of Thoreau's Desperate Multitude) is "neither good nor bad. He is terrified, alone - even among friends and family. Though he works to support his family he is not sure, exactly, what he does. According to his Job Description he `Administrates Creative Product Strategies.'" Lucky to have a job, doomed to Kafka's prediction. "He's reached his final rung. He knows he hasn't the energy to kill, the visceral burning to climb further. The remaining energies of life will be directed toward hanging to the rung on which his life precariously clings. Long, grim struggle to maintain his place on the limitless ladder to the sky. He can barely see the people at bottom, but he would need a powerful telescope indeed to even glimpse Movers and Shakers at the Top."
Before incarnating as Savior of Greenery, Plantman worked at the Ad Agency: "What was I doing, me and my false words? Degenerative lingua-phobia. Overexposure to corrupt grammar of `the sell.'" In his journey around the vertical icecube trays composing the high- rise city, Plantman is more or less androgynous, able to sense the doomed bio-romantic stasis of females once twined naked, with him, under a rhythmic Moon. Female office workers, the Datists, work for a world of male world managers: "Computers sucked girl juice dry from cunt to womb. Terrible brightness of the afternoon (or was it night?) under florescent suns. What is a girl's desire in the world of men?"
His empathy with every life form & human type - like his plants, struggling to stay alive in synthetic space & mechanic time - is real, but helpless. Plantman's "condition" - terminal anemia - signals the energy fluid of Life itself dying from the biophobia of the World. A world in which The Death Squad, a "weekly documentary for the war-juiced public," is the favorite hit network tv "live-action series."
Like every lifeform on the overmanufactured planet, Plantman is alone with his mythic destiny. Carrying a bag of fading cells, he must look for The Missing Girl in this classic scenario: in search of the Only Real Magic which can refresh & refertilize Earth, he also seeks his own resurrection from impending Death.
f you pass Plantman on the highway, with that bag of seeds over his shoulder, trudging drunkenly Westward - that's the Direction he's going.
Always and forever. -- Barbara Mor --Dissident Voice, October 13, 2008 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A. Stephen Engel is a literary genius! From the minute I began reading this novel, I was transfixed. It was a journey that I never expected to take, and I never wanted it to end!!Published on January 3, 2010 by D. Chandler
Hmmm...where to start? This novel is an experimental work that was very interesting and yet not extremely fulfilling. Read morePublished on June 18, 2009 by Natasha Stryker
I have tried to read this book, picking it up more than once to start and restart and skip ahead and go back and try again and then again. It didn't work. I couldn't grasp it. Read morePublished on May 13, 2009 by Meredith
The 30 word review:
Sadly, epic reading fail. What appeared on the surface to be a witty, fast-paced contemporary novel turned out to be unreadable even for ADD speed readers,... Read more
Adam Engel's debut "modular novel" (a term from the back cover text) follows "Plantman", a former advertising copywriter turned indoor landscaper, on his day throughout workplaces... Read morePublished on February 8, 2009 by K. W. Schreiter
Book. Reads me as I am reading it. Reads our world, our society as it is now. Only it's not. The future. Apocalyptic future. No Judy Jetson. No Keith Partridge 2200 A.D. Read morePublished on February 4, 2009 by Greg Ehrbar
I don't see how this book was any more "difficult" to read than Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" or Burroughs' "Ticket That Exploded. Read morePublished on January 24, 2009 by J. Joyce
Engel has penned what many reviewers compare to works like 1984, Brave New World, or Naked Lunch (to name a few), but I think that may be looking a little too deep (which isn't a... Read morePublished on January 19, 2009 by Billy Stewart