Rey is a door-to-door knives salesman, meandering through life as much as the neighborhoods he wanders selling cheap cutlery, hoping to bed his boss and to get his coworker to stop showing him his penis. While attempting to make a sale in the backwoods of Vermont, he comes to a home filled with analog televisions. On the screens is Rey - Rey walking down the street, Rey standing before the television, Rey laying dead on channel 13. Initially he suspects the townspeople of recording him, but as strange occurrences, and murder victims, begin to stack up, Rey quickly finds himself in way over his head, caught up in a chain of events he could have never imagined.
Aetherchrist is my first trip through the surreal mind of Kirk Jones, an author of weird fiction whose bibliography includes titles such as Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals and Masturbatory Entropy. If you ever wondered how The Matrix might have turned out if written and directed by David Cronenberg and David Lynch, with maybe a touch or two of uncredited, off-screen Act I consultation from Chuck Palahniuk, Aetherchrist may be the answer. Filled with surrealism, hints of conspiracy and secret worlds, moments of science fiction-fueled body horror, and the power of analog signals, this one's a bit of a head trip.
Jones plunges readers straight into his weird little world filled with oddball characters. For being less than 150 pages, Aetherchrist feels quite a bit denser thanks the big and bizarre ideas taking center stage following America's move from analog broadcasts to digital television. We're given hints and peeks into hidden subcultures and rogue movements who possess startling power, but much of it is a sideways glance, filtered through Rey's own ignorance and paranoia - he's an Everyman narrator who knows about as much as we do and is oftentimes just as lost and confused. Although the narrative is straightforward, the topics of discussion and peculiar details of the story itself are strangely oblique and mysterious nonetheless. To his credit, Rey at least seems to understand this on one level, noting that not only does everything in his life go wrong, it goes wrong in the most absurd ways possible.
Aetherchrist is a high-concept read, with philosophical questions of fate and destiny and how much control we really have over the events in our lives kind of lurking around the margins, touched upon but never deeply explored. In between the strange happenings occurring from page to page, there's plenty of ancillary fodder left to mentally chew on, like collectivism versus individuality. Readers who need a strong, definitive finale may be a bit disappointed at the abrupt conclusion and the niggling threads of story left unanswered (threads that are perhaps, more accurately, unanswerable), but Jones's narrative is more about the trip itself and not the destination. This is the story of a journey, a wandering through some strange, dark, and abruptly violent corners, and it isn't really important where Rey ends up, but how he gets there.
Aetherchrist is a bizarre work, but also bizarrely engaging. It's one of those books that I'm pretty sure I understood, even if I can't properly and sanely articulate all the ins and outs about it. What I do know for sure, though, is that it completely captivated me, held my interest, and made me feel completely invested in my brief journey alongside Rey and his briefcase of knives. I'm also pretty sure Kirk Jones just earned himself a new reader with this book, one who is curious what other oddities he's put to the page.
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