Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat review @ Dead End Follies

Some people I know could kill for an original idea.

Other people I know have originality broken down and streaming in their blood. Life’s unfair. Andrez (really, Andrew) Bergen belongs to the second category. He has the Originality Gene in his DNA. TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT might be quoting and referencing about a hundred pop culture products, but all put together, it adds up to something you’ve never read before. A twentieth century obsessed law enforcement worker in a secluded city, in a distant and totalitarian future. Yeah, exactly. It’s as crazy as the premise sounds. But beyond being crazy, it’s a bold, borderline reckless experimentation with storytelling.

It’s funny, because at first I thought Bergen was writing a story about nothing. I read and read and asked myself: “Where the hell is this going? Have I sped through the plot? Has Bergen sped through the plot?” But, no. Patience was rewarding as I started understanding Andrez Bergen’s master plan. It’s no coincidence if the chapters of TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT all have titles. They literally could all be torn off from the book and would work as a standalone short story. Put together in a novel though, they all feed into each other and create a deeper, more layered meaning. Now, pardon my french but this is bold as fuck. Bergen constantly gambles with his reader’s attention and relies on his patience and intelligence to persevere and see the bigger picture he’s creating. Takes balls to pull off such a stunt.

I don’t know how I felt about the whole reference thingie going on in TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT. Sure, it was quirky but it got tiring after a while. Good thing though, Bergen seems to have grown tired of it too and after maybe half of he novel, it zeroes in on Floyd’s obsession with Humphrey Bogart. While he stretched the idea for a little too long, he knew when to stop it. There is a second layer to his references though, which I thought was the most interesting. There are winks withing the story. The paranoid vibe, the vaguely named agencies, this is all very Philip K. Dick like. Throw in a 100% original narrator who himself sees the world through the eyes of hardboiled characters and you got yourself an intoxicating mix. The detail-oriented craftsmanship of Andrez Bergen won me over and made me appreciate the complex nature of what he was really doing.

“There’s an age old Japanese saying: ‘Nana korobi ya oki’, which means ‘falls seven times, rise eight times’-which is an encouragement to persevere.”
“You persevered?”
“Not intentionally. But I survived.”

Innovators usually suffer a bleak fate. The sheer volume of new ideas Andrez Bergen proposes in TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT will turn off some people as much as it will suck some in. On a long enough time frame, it is destined to be a cult classic, I think. It feels a little loose as the plot elements are scattered through and Floyd is a tiny bit too broadly painted to carry the weight of the novel by himself, but I applause Andrez Bergen’s bravado for putting out so many new ideas into the same narrative. Floyd Maquina might not be remembered for his wild adventures, but he’s a stone in the legacy Bergen has started building for himself. It’s refreshing to see an author not necessarily aiming for New York Times Best Seller list and just being happy to share his vision of literature through his work.

Reading TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT makes it hard not to like Andrez Bergen as a person and a writer.

BENOIT LELIEVRE, 27 July 2012

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