Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #51: The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman

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To be frank, though I can’t say I very much like that name, I can hardly believe I made it past the first page. I must have been in a forgiving mood, because the opening line by its self would usually have been enough for me to just put the book right back where it came from.

When you knock a bowl of sugar on to your host’s carpet, it is a parody of the avalanche that killed his mother and father, just as the duck’s beak that your new girlfriend’s lips form when she attempts a seductive pout is a quotation of the quacking noise your last girlfriend made during sex.

Beauman continues on like that until he reaches the second paragraph and finally decides to stop with the inane ramblings and get down to the story proper.

And that was the final worry to flutter through Egon Loser’s mind before he pulled the lever on his Teleportation Device one morning. If it went wrong, they would all say: for what possible reason did you name your experimental stagecraft prototype after the most calamitous experimental stagecraft prototype in the history of theater?

Excise the entire opening paragraph, promote the above to the rank of opening lines, without even needing to really change so much as a word, and you have my attention as opposed to derision. Your book is called The Teleportation Accident. Lead with that. Don’t potentially alienate your readers before they even reach what is clearly the hook of your story.

Is there a hook, though, or is Beauman casting out more lines than he could ever possibly reel in? The further in I got, the more I suspected the latter, especially after referencing the description found upon the book’s front flap.

From Ned Beauman … comes a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what “isotope” means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady, and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.

How easy it is to toss those same words back in a critique. To draw attention to the words “dangerously unsteady,” as well as to “largely,” the necessary qualifier that proceeds “coherent.” Above all else, to point out that none of this would read as an endorsement were it not for the few kind words tacked on there at the end (“stunningly inventive,” “exceptionally funny”).

Both this description and the book itself are all in how you look at them. The Teleportation Accident is afflicted with dissociative identity disorder. We can agree on that, the two of us, the writer of those double-edged words and I. Where we disagree is what that does for the book. To him or her, it’s the Hollywood brand of crazy, mental illness made endearing character quirk. To me, it’s something that needs rehabilitated, preferably by a judicious editor.

Either forcibly limit his scope or demand he lengthen his work in order to comfortably fit all the junk he’s shoving down its gullet. Because, as is, reading The Teleportation Accident is like watching a morbidly obese man who’s just had gastric bypass surgery try to eat as he normally would. It seems like a good idea at first, but then come the stomach pains, and before long damage will be done that might prove irreparable, or even fatal.

What I mean is, I admired Beauman’s unbridled ambition at first, yet only because I didn’t know any better, much the same as the fat man in my analogy. I was too focused on the immediate reward of this grab-bag mentality to be properly attentive to the long-term effects it would undoubtedly cause. The variety which I found refreshing at the start soon lost its novelty as Beauman’s lines grew more and more tangled.

If he had kept the story as simple, comparatively speaking, as in those opening moments, and not strayed too far from what I had thought was the hook (the teleporation accident referenced in the title), I would’ve forgotten all about that first page rather than think about it, as I do now, as a harbinger of things to come. Because, for a while there, I felt he was building, rather successfully I might add, to something that would make tie everything in, thus causing me to look back more fondly on that first page in hindsight.

At the very least, he was winning me over with unexpected humor such as this.

There was no flat surface near by so they just sniffed the coke off the sides of their hands and then licked up the residue. One of the great skills of Berlin social life was to make this awkward self-nuzzling into an elegant gesture; Loeser knew that he resembled a schoolboy trying to teach himself cunnligus. Then, afterwards, always that furtive, startled look, as if somehow you’d only just realized you weren’t alone in the room.

My friend questioned the resourcefulness of the writer, suggesting they could’ve snorted the coke off of any number of “flat” surfaces in the cab they were in, but I’m willing to ignore that for the sake of what is probably the best bit of humor I’ve read all year. It definitely made me laugh the loudest out of everything. Beauman also got me to bite thanks to peculiarly perfect descriptions such as this:

Achleitner had pointed, and Loeser had looked over to see a fellow student with all the classical good looks and muscle definition of a shop-window dummy dipped in birthday-cake icing, who sat alone with a glass of beer.

So when I wasn’t admiring his ambition, I was admiring his ability to turn a phrase, be it humorous or descriptive.

Except then the list of characters grew, the plot thickened and grew progressively more convoluted, and before long I’d lost track of what was going on and why I was supposed to care. We’d started centered on Loeser, whose name is one letter off of “loser” for the obvious reason that he is one, and the misadventures brought about by his desperate search for sex and drugs (but not rock and roll) to a cross-continental mess that pushes Loeser towards the back seat and ends, like The Return of the King, with a series of endings instead of just one.

We go from clever nods at The Teleportation Accident’s historical context, like when Loeser states that Adolf Hitler will have no effect on his life (and, for the most part, he actually doesn’t), to Beauman completely ignoring said historical context on purpose. Yes, “the best way to deal with history is to ignore it” says the description on the front flap. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with such a baseless claim.

Perhaps if there were one thing in this story that I took as having any sort of meaning or heft, I’d be content to allow Beauman to brush aside, among other things, historical context. However, I cannot. Every thread Beauman follows ends in anti-climactic fashion. He appears to have even less of an idea where things are headed than the reader. In short, he is the “ape” that closes out the story.

‘I don’t know where I am,’ the ape was thinking. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am.’

By books end, I was thinking more or less the same thing. That could be a comment on me as a reader, but I certainly don’t believe I’m alone in thinking that way. So if you too wish for your stories to be coherent, focused, and meaningful, and the opening lines I quoted at the beginning of my review put you off as well, then I wholeheartedly recommend you skip this one.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

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