PATRICK LENTON A Man Made Entirely of Bats. Reviewed by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Reading Lenton is like eating a box of chocolates with familiar flavours in unfamiliar combinations, like tangerine gouda and caramel kimchi. You’re not exactly sure what you’re in for but then suddenly they’re in your mouth and you find them both scrumptious and memorable. If you didn’t enjoy that description, you might not enjoy A Man Made Entirely of Bats.
Consider this super-villain monologue:
Sometimes you’ll be holding the mayor hostage and giant clown balloons full of mustard gas will be hovering over the puppy park and you’ll think, Why are you even doing this, Dr Fun? What happened to your dreams of being a simple street mime? … And then you’ll remember that you’re out for revenge against the cold-hearted city, which refused to give you a busking licence.
If A Man Made Entirely of Bats were an alphabet book, its pages would include Antarctica, Bee-Judge, Captain Charisma, decapitation, explosives, frighthouse, Guerilla Mum, Helvetica, Insomni-Yak, Jim Belushi, King of the World, love, magnetism, Night of the Living Sled, One-Armed Jonathon, Pope Benedict XVI, quotation marks, Ross Geller, space-raptors, Tom Cruise, ulcers, Vietnam, Wonder Woman, X-rays, YOLO, and zombies.
The 24 stories are brief flashes into imaginative alternative worlds, and readers are thrust into each at the most entertaining moments. Many, like ‘The Neighbour Herd’, are pun-based – but they’re not the lame sort of puns requiring crutches (for example) – they’re delightfully original.
Though they’re thematically connected, each story has a distinct voice. ‘Mooncat’ is the monologue of a man who turns into a ginger cat. ‘When the Helicopters Come’ is told in second-person imperative, insisting we imagine ourselves on an increasingly specific journey to Vietnam. In ‘Phraseo – Rogue Editor’, we hear the distinctive evil cackle as Phraeso rants about the Grammar Council. ‘Radioactive Jerk’ features only the responses in an FBI interrogation (the questions would slow the humour).
Creative imagery fills each story. A Lentonian character won’t say he’s unafraid; he’ll tell us:
A weaker man might feel that squirming sensation deep in his gut, as if a tiny cat was trying to get comfortable in his stomach, but which was actually fear. Not I though … If fear was fire, then I would be a fireman, able to stride completely immune through the roaring flames, chuckling madly and rescuing fistfuls of babies.
Often depicted through little more than dialogue, the characters play on common tropes, such as the police superintendent who shares his opinion on vigilantes:
‘What would happen if all these masked madmen started getting dressed up and doing other jobs? What if someone dressed up like a big sexy bee came in and started being … a judge? Yeah, Bee-Judge, just handing out Bee verdicts everywhere. … They’d call the police, because people don’t want a judge wearing a costume.
‘Wha – well, I suppose a vigilante might be called instead of the police, but no, I’m not willing to speculate who would win out of The Man of Bats versus Bee-Judge in a fight.’
In between the stories is artwork of the Man of Bats himself, taking flight through the power of flipped pages.
It’s not all fun and mutants, though. A scattering of profound moments gives the book a careful balance. This is particularly true of the revelation in the final piece, ‘Too Heavy for Superman’, which ends the book on a heartbreaking note – a coy trick to make readers like myself, with easily manipulated emotions, plunge back into other stories for another laugh.
A Man Made Entirely of Bats is the work of an original mind unleashed.
Patrick Lenton A Man Made Entirely of Bats Spineless Wonders 2015 PB 130pp $22.99
Ashley Kalagian Blunt has written for Griffith Review, McSweeney’s and Right Now. She teaches writing and public speaking, performs stand-up and has written two memoirs. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter: @AKalagianBlunt.
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