Ned Beuman’s a weird fellow, isn’t he? His writing is somehow both preoccupied and disinterested with Nazi Germany. It’s the time period he keeps returning to, yet he makes it seem coincidental, almost as if it could’ve been any other time at all. Does he aim to be controversial as the collectors of Nazi memorabilia inBoxer, Beetle, amassing an alarming number of references to Germany’s nightmarish past while maintaining a cold regard for its orchestrators? Or is there another motivation underlying this stubborn insistence he’s had thus far in his writing career to never stray too far from those years in history? Are all his books from here on in going to be patches on the same quilt which will, eventually, form a swastika that’ll stand as a thesis on… something or other?
Unless it’s part of some greater plan, or there’s a message that’s flying miles over my head, it’s distracting at best, and at worst it’s holding his stories back. For each line that absolutely sings, there’s another Nazi reference that shrieks and drowns out the good with the bad, or rather the annoyingly persistent. Were he to write about anything else, any other point in time, I don’t doubt he could take a stab at measuring up to the Vonnegut comparisons I saw one intrepid reviewer mention over on Goodreads. First, though, he needs to stop shooting for his own Breakfast of Champions. That work, and arguably Vonnegut’s entire bibliography, was steeped in the firebombing of Dresden the same way as Boxer, Beetle and The Teleportation Accident are in Nazi Germany; the difference, however, is Vonnegut was drawing on first-hand experience, literally writing what he knew, having witnessed the event as a prisoner in Dresden, whereas I’m having trouble figuring out what it is about Beauman that draws him to talk about Hitler and his consistuents.
By virtue of this, he could’ve presented to his readers as many variations on those events as he pleased without it detracting from his work, as it was always too personal to feel like a dishonest ploy. Beauman doesn’t have that luxury. His writing could be on par with Vonnegut at his best and I would still deduct points for him not being able to shake his ties with possibly the most weighted time period in all of history. With as much unpleasantness as he already incorporates into his stories, the Nazi element seems like him just piling on, and he’s not yet a seasoned enough writer to bear that weight. He wasn’t in The Teleportation Accident, and he certainly isn’t in Boxer, Beetle, his debut. Vonnegut’s stories touched on a number of indignities, from the real to the imagined, but he had a clear motive. Beauman, in my eyes, does not, and any guess at the meaning of either of his books, to me, is attributing significance to the largely insignificant.
I’m not saying he, or his writing, isn’t without merit, that he’s another Chuck Palahniuk, a relative hack mainly reliant upon shock value. On the contrary, he has a wealth of promise at his disposal, as he’s one of the most naturally gifted writers I’ve come across recently. It’s the storytelling aspect he’s lacking in. He includes a variety of disparate, yet compelling, elements, with Nazi Germany being only one of many, then fails to tie them all together in a satisfactory manner. Maybe later on in his career he’ll have advanced his craft enough to try his hand at his own Slaughterhouse-Five, but for now he should keep his ambitions in check and work his way up to that. In The Teleportation Accident, and to a lesser extent in Boxer, Beetle, I got the sense that he was juggling, and doing such a slipshod job of it that, by story’s end, there wouldn’t be a single ball left up in the air or in his hands. Each starts out more humbly, limiting its attention to a character or two, and he’s the better for it.
It’s when he starts to introduce complications that his stories grow aimless and muddled. If Boxer, Beetle had stuck to either the past or the present, for instance, I argue that it would’ve been an improvement. Yes, the two storylines are dependent upon one another, but what I’m trying to say is I would’ve preferred he stuck to one set of characters. As is, I felt robbed every time he switched from one to the other, wanting to spend more time with both, particularly “Fishy.” On top of that, the ending left me with the same “that’s it?” feeling I had upon finishing The Teleportation Accident. I keep waiting for him to hit on something bigger, to lend his stories the meaning they seem to be lacking, yet which critics all around want to attribute to them, and they just sort of deflate. They don’t even leave you thinking, as they’re not all that open-ended or ambiguous. And, honestly, that’s about the worst way you can describe an ending to a story, disappointing and, more importantly, forgettable, two words I would use to describe both of Beauman’s books as a whole. Except I would have to tack on one more word: promising. It’s that word that’ll keep me reading his books in the hope that, at some point down the line, everything will come together, like in The Beatles song, and I’ll finally be able to jam along with him without those damned shrieks distracting me.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.