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Everyone loves a kitschy B-movie. We love to watch them, pick on them, dress up as their characters. B-movies have made careers for the creators of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and serve as the aesthetic foundation for A-TV shows like Stranger Things. And a B-movie is exactly what Aaron Poochigian’s newly released Mr. Either/Or both is and is not. Of course, it is not a film – it is in fact a novel in verse – but its plot runs like that of a B-Movie’s, yet told in language that one might find in Milton or Beowulf. It is an engaging, smart, and superbly fun work that one can read over and over again and still come away with something new every time.
Meet you. You are the hero of Mr. Either/Or, a story told in second person, which creates the feel of a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Poochigian’s protagonist – you – totters between the highly cerebral super-spy and the base bro with a limited view on how other humans function. At the start of the novel, you are ready to give up your badge and the agency, for which you work, in order to chase tail and lead the chill life of a college freshman in the halls of New York University. But your boss calls you back for one more mission, and you feel compelled – I mean, come on, Boss is like a father to you.
And thus, you’re propelled into the magical chase that Mr. Either/Or so gleefully runs. From the first to the third page of the novel, you’re sprung from the folklore of ancient China to the bright, sunny ambiance of Washington Square in the fall. The plot turns over itself again and again, adding elements of Mafioso, the science fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, all told in the tongue of an Old English text. There’s a love interest, a sewer cult, glamorous parties and shootouts in the alley. And, of course, there’s a threat to humankind as we know it. What Mr. Either/Or is concerned with – and does so well – is keeping you engaged. Its quick, poppy pace has you devouring page after page, hungry for what comes next.
Poochigian’s talent is evident from the first lines and Mr. Either/Or serves as his poetic playground. He twirls you through loops of language – highly paratactic sentences with crisp, sensory words are broken by valley bro-slang like dude and sweet. Poochigian both feeds our basest natures and challenges us as readers. He gut punches us at every turn with lines like:
“a slug/ explodes his forehead, brains Rorschach the wall.”
“A meat mustache/ sprouts, spreads/ and the split-lip smacks/ of old pennies.”
And his sentences are some of the most innovative I’ve seen in years:
“Metal doors/ named Exit Only flank a barrel vault, its half-moon Tiffanied with Plexiglass,/ its base a palimpsest of bills for alt-/ electro-psycho-Euro-billy-bands.”
Poochigian has his fun too, toying with his reader, his character, you, or all of the above. He opens sections by interrupting the story just to speak directly to you:
“Sorry to butt in while you’re making out/ with Ms. Levine, but there’s a second myth/ that’s out there spoiling to be reckoned with.”
Poochigian’s linguistic tensor relaxes the pace with pensive moments like these, which seem straight from Hamlet:
“Fresh pillow and a bed not yours, but deeper./ What stranger-flesh is there? What corpse or sleeper?”
Mr. Either/Or is unlike anything I have ever read. At every turn it engages, at every turn it thinks generously of the reader. It is a novel unafraid to be both playful and intelligent, hopeful and dark. Its kitschier elements give way to language that gives pause and instills awe. It is a novel that you can read again and again, and still find something new and magical in its body.
Mr. Either/Or is published by Etruscan Press.