Chimericana Books, 2006, $14.99
Reviewed by Nickolas Cook
Mike Philbin is sort of the David Lynch of the horror world.
Of course, I mean that in a good way.
But along with that genre compliment comes a caveat: Not everyone ‘gets’ Lynch as an artist.
This confusing creative dichotomy is no more apparent than in his latest novel, Jane’s Game, the story of an ex-model who might not be all that she seems at first glance.Â There’s a story here, and some rather fine writing as well, but because both tend to get submerged by a seemingly stylized obscurity and will to abstraction, it may not come across to all readers.Â Like a literary roller coaster, we are tossed from one scene to another, even at times one character to another, without any of the usual niceties of conventional storytelling.Â That’s not necessarily a bad thing.Â Phillip K. Dick sometimes used this method to keep his readers off balance.Â Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.Â Along those lines, Jane’s Game does work most of the time.Â After all, Philbin knows how to turn a phrase, and how to send a metaphor into the air and make it sizzle – no problems there.
But Jane’s Game is not a read for the unadventurous, certainly not for the squeamish.Â Anyone coming to it with the belief that all modern literature is an easy and passive affair need not apply.Â This book demands your full attention and complicity.Â I found myself having to go back and make sure I had caught all of the previous details as the story shifted away and fell into yet another bizarre layer.Â There are some marvelous passages, rife with a classical style combined with a pissed off Beatnik sensibility.Â Philbin provides a sense of the erotic to even some of the most gruesome of his set pieces, as he examines art and the artist, the body and the mind, sensuality and perversity with a daredevil abandon.Â The characters tend to become abrasive – much like Lynch’s casts- and don’t engender much in the way of sympathy, but because of their impossible histrionics, it sometimes feels more like Greek tragedy than modern literature – or a drug-addled nightmare.
My final assessment?
If you like your fiction edgy and hard, give Mike Philbin’s Jane’s Game a try.Â It won’t disappoint.