Kingdom of Alt, Jack Ross (Titus Books, Auckland, 2010) 240 pp., $45.00
If Jack Ross has not read J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, someone should get it for him. Kingdom of Alt has some of the serial agonistic airs of that work, but it is more dispersed: Kingdom of Alt is a collection of tales and takes involved with relations between real-life events and imaginary fictions that score the traumas of those real lives. The narrators include variously: a twenty-or-so female university student, a thirtyish divorcee taking evening poetry classes and making freakish death films from video fragments, a middle-aged man, Jack Ross himself as the speaking author, and other, both fragmentary and unified, human-ish points of view.
The book opens with ‘Trauma’, a compelling short story that lampoons the difficult-subject liberal university course, the traumatised people who take it, and the suiciding student who seems to be the inevitable result of that equation. The story is largely presented as a series of journal entries including marginal edits from the narrator. These edits tend towards smoothing out her self-presentation, so that the student will come across as nicer than her first-thought compositional impulses might indicate. Thus ‘correcting’ the university journal or essay is associated with self-editing as making nice. By extension, smoothing out and correcting writing – making ‘good’, finished art – is presented as a making-nice of the painful equations of human culture. Kingdom of Alt does not want to make nice in that way. The fictive framing of this story, as with others in this collection, is multiple: real-life journalism, psychological theory, an embedded story, and the draft composition journal bracket each other, while the tale moves toward its ‘resolution’ of sorrow and sympathetic incomprehension.
LISA SAMUELS is an American teaching literature and creative writing at The University of Auckland. She publishes on poetry and critical practice and is also the author of ten poetry collections – most recently Tomorrowland (Shearsman, 2009), Mama Mortality Corridos (Holloway, 2010), and Gender City (Shearsman, forthcoming 2011) – and a creative non-fiction book, Anti M (Chax, forthcoming 2011).