Book Review – Antkind by Charlie Kaufman
© Steven Boykey Sidley
Charlie Kaufman is the celebrated and award-winning screenwriter of wildly offbeat cult-favorite films – Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among others.
This is his debut novel.
It is over 700 hundred pages long.
Now that I have lost most of you, let me continue. It is shambolic, difficult to follow (at least much of the time), undisciplined, narratively bombastic, narcissistic and infuriating. And utterly unconcerned by casual and continuing slights against the hot-button cultural issues of race, religion, gender and sexual preference.
Now that I am sure I have lost even more readers, let me continue again.
It is also brilliant, profound, perceptive, erudite, and very, very funny, filled with pyrotechnic language and startling dialogue. I have read entire ‘literary’ books which cannot compete with even one chapter of this one (there are 89 chapters!)
How to review this book? Almost impossible (just as it is almost impossible to read). Here is the setup:
Rosenberger Rosenberg (not Jewish, being part one the book’s many, many ongoing jokes) is a middle-aged and dispirited film critic, having once made a poorly reviewed film once, and now relegated into the sad hell of writing academic film reviews, read by almost no-one.
On a film research trip to Florida he meets an aged ‘African American’ who has spent 9 decades making a movie which takes three months to watch. All in stop-frame animation. No one has ever seen it, but the old man makes an exception for B, allowing him to pause watching only to sleep for a few hours every night.
It is, to B’s mind, the greatest piece of art ever made. Ever. But at the end of the film, the old man dies, of, well, old age. B is determined to rent a U-Haul to take the thousands of film reels back to New York to present to the world, thereby conferring on him the status of one of the world’s great discoverers-of-art.
But stopping for a burger on the way home, the truck catches fire in the parking lot and the film is destroyed, except for one frame.
At which point the book explodes into a sort of barely controlled chaos as he desperately tries to remember the film in its entirety. Oh, and B. talks often about how he hates a filmmaker called Charlie Kaufman – calling him ‘abysmal and superficial’
For the sake of brevity (a proper review of a 700 page of this depth and diversity book surely mandates at least 5 or 10 pages) I am going stop here, because the thought of trying to describe the interior world author Kaufman/B. Rosenberger Rosenberg’s mind is just too exhausting to contemplate.
For the book is indeed the definition of exhausting, a Kaufman microscope of every single whimsical notion and every tangential opinion and every bewilderment and every joke and every uncaged rant about life and art and sex and Trump and history and literature and war and philosophy and psychology – and I am only talking about the first 30 or so pages here! Oh, and there are ants and puppets and manholes and caves and robots and hypnotists and time travellers and dopplegangers and…
The book, as best as I can interpret it is actually about the impossibility of being Charlie Kaufman. Or the impossibility of being human. Or the impossibility of understanding art. Or something.
If anyone is left reading this review, I want to throw out a challenge. Consider this book like, I dunno, running a double marathon for which you have not trained. The process will be extraordinarily painful, but if you finish, your friends will pat you on the back and you might find yourself reliving, with pleasure, the best parts of the ordeal in dead of night when no one else is around.