by Alex Khlopenko
This book lies to you even before you crack it open – the 76-paged paperback in no way prepares you to the density it has prepared inside. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for hundreds of characters in dozens of intertwined stories with guest appearances from US presidents, L. Ron Hubbard, a short-lived Instagram star that got too-hot-too-fast, a couple of gods, Biblical kings, movie stars, murderers, and of course – BRIAN GONKA.
BRIAN GONKA is not your average protagonist. He is not even an average Wilsonian protagonist – among his characters you can find caricatures and reflections on current politics, fantastical concepts personified, past mistakes in US foreign and domestic politics, cultural appropriation, Instagram stars and the speed of the rise and fall into stardom, thieves, bodybuilders, and many others, but there is only on BRIAN GONKA. The actor, the murdered and the detective simultaneously, the B.G, he is the evil, and the pickup master, the devil and the guru of this world. At first, you think that Brian Gonka lives in every corner of this book’s world, but by the end, you know that this book lives in a BRIAN GONKA world.
It is a world where a woman can post a selfie with her neighbor’s house burning in the background to bring the attention of her followers, only for her followers to create hashtags #flamingbitch #fieryslut #scorchedcunt and ultimately burn her with Molotov’s cocktails for her lack of morals.
This world 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.
In a hundred docufiction vignettes Wilson confidently plays with the truth, twisting it, turning, making it unbelievably believable and presenting fiction that seems more real than the real thing. It’s pants-shittingly scary. And it’s utterly hilarious. This is the speculative fiction that you would rather be real, as opposed to e.g. Atwood’s or Kafkaesque sort of speculations, since whatever reality we live in right now – it will bite your ass. BRIAN GONKA will bite your ass.
Natural Complexions is short (76 pages!), but make no mistake – it requires time and dedication to traverse the dense jungle that are his story(ies). It took me a couple of weeks for the first read, only to put it down, breathe out, and say to myself – “I have no fucking idea what that was, but I want more from where that came from”. My copy is full of notes, underlines, and lots of question marks. My guess is – that’s how it was meant to be read. A sickeningly fun, interactive experiment, a sort of choose-you-own-adventure for Philosophy and Literature PhDs. It will be worth every minute (hour, day) you spend with it if you can endure it.
Natural Complexions is hardly a book for the masses. It does not fit the bill of the modern literary tradition of saying nothing in 300 pages (it says a lot, maybe too much), it doesn’t follow the conventions of speculative and science-fiction literature (it denies convention), it scares you and makes you laugh like no Stephen King novel or any stand up show produced to this day.
This is speculative fiction at its best, fulfilling its function and going the extra mile.
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Natural Complexions is available from Equus Press