Shudder Pageant by xtx and Mel Bosworth

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Review of Shudder Pageant by Mel Bosworth & xtx.

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2009, 57 pages

Shudder Pageant is a collaborative multi-media flash novel (as opposed to “micro-novel” – a novel told in 140 character increments) by a couple of young and edgy authors who are probably too good for their own good.

The plot of the story is a spiral, not linear, account of three friends; Jacob, Sophie and Cody, whose lives are irrevocably altered by the enlistment of Cody’s brother Brody into the Army Reserves.  The spiral of events downward (as it turns out) is mirrored in destinations like hospital floors and street gutters before the thread spins out. And it is back along that thread that the pageant of shudders parades.

“The more broken one bucked wild horse on the bed, red foam spurting from his mouth like water from a pinched garden hose.

First nurse leaned back, the leather strap straining damp on her palms.

‘Get the fuck over here and help me!’

Second nurse flicked the cigarette through the window. In the distance, explosions hung in the sky like angry memories. She passed the bed of the less broken one. He’d been awake for 10 hours now but hadn’t spoken a word. The 33 stitches through his lips were thick and sloppy, the result of an overtired and fawning young medic.

He whimpered like a broke-leg pup. Second Nurse frowned deeply.

She knew his time would come, and when it did, she’d be the one holding his hand.”

Xtx and Bosworth have seamlessly woven their interpretations of the three main characters with the perspective of peripheral characters who bear witness to the slow drop out of the primaries; into a story that feels as if it could have been culled from a fevered, attention span challenged Denis Johnson dream.  In just a few minimalist pages, the collaboration draws out violence, crime, drug addiction, broken families and broken loves all stemming from a bleak but familiar landscape:

“At first it was awkward, Brody was different…quieter. But even later, after he acclimated as best he could to his temporary civilian life, he still wasn’t the same. It was a different version of Brody, like someone had taken who he was, washed it several times, and put it back inside him.

His parents put on faces and avoided any discussion about how things were going “over there.”

They never said ‘Iraq.’”

What the collaborating authors have created here is an Ouroboros of narrative structure, a story that essentially gives birth to itself, coming together in the psychic connection between Cody and Brody, whose destinies are irreversibly intertwined and manifest in a two headed mutant which Cody keeps animated (or not) in a jar he keeps cradled close to his bosom and drug habit.

The surreal sense of events spiralling out of control is punctuated by an evolving chorus that runs from “We’re real people doing real things” which runs out to the past tense “I was a real person doing real things,” as if these characters are trying to convince themselves of something that isn’t quite genuine, or even entirely true.

Shudder Pageant is a little online miracle, a multi-medium flash novel in spoken or written form that is absolutely free to everyone, and yet weaves the “NOW” of both evolving literature and the reigning cultural paradigms into a post-modern fable that feels simultaneously unreal and immediate.  Bosworth and xtx demonstrate that they can function as one unwavering and unblinking voice, and one can only hope that they continue to move literature in a direction that is this honest, accessible and revelatory through future collaborations.

Paul Corman-Roberts for Full Of Crow. 

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