Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
When I started reading Reb Livingston’s upcoming work Bombyonder (November 2014), I thought it was a novel. Reading it on a Kindle, it took me a while to realize that, perhaps, this would rather be considered poetry. There is some form of overarching narrative, but it is often difficult to find. Yet whether this is poetry or prose, it is not the kind of writing I can appreciate.
I find it hard to write this review, because I got so little out of this book. It reads like something Gertrude Stein could have written, which in my opinion is not a compliment. (And if you are a Gertrude Stein fan, well, this review might just convince you to go ahead and buy the book.) I strongly dislike Gertrude Stein’s use of language, her illogical metaphors, her endless repetitions, and Livingston’s work contains all of that. I also find it difficult to deal with the fact that Stein wrote her works a century ago, and that the same form of language is still being used by Livingston, albeit in a science fiction-like setting.
There are parts that seem to tell a quite interesting story – for instance, the book starts and ends with a father creating a ‘kind’ bomb, upon which the daughter murders the father – but this narrative is too fragmented, too much interspersed with incomprehensible lists and separate poems, and this makes it impossible for the reader to follow the narrator. The work contains shrapnels of keen insights, but they are written in too dream-like a manner: these insights appear within a jumble of incoherent messages, the narrator skipping from one to another without differentiating between the profound and the ridiculous. There are words that are repeated so often you’ll start either loving or detesting them. Dingbat. Assbeast. Boomba. And, for some reason, ‘vomit’ and ‘penis’.
The best way to approach this novel in my opinion, then, is not to read it at all if you dislike Gertrude Stein, and if you do like her writing, to read this work slowly, chapter by chapter, and to surrender to the flow of words and phrases without attempting to grasp at an underlying narrative. Simply put, I didn’t get this book at all. It was a struggle for me to get through. I only finished it because I was given an advance reading copy of the book through NetGalley, and I felt I owed it to the publisher to give them an honest review about the book from beginning to end.