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About Steve Tomasula: Tomasula is the author of the novels The Book of Portraiture, VAS: An Opera in Flatland, an acclaimed novel of the biotech revolution; TOC: A New-Media Novel, and IN & OZ. He is also the author of a collection of short fiction, Once Human: Stories. Incorporating narrative forms of all kinds—from comic books, travelogues, journalism or code to Hong Kong action movies or science reports—Tomasula’s writing has been called a “reinvention of the novel,” combining an “attention to society in the tradition of Orwell, attention to language in the tradition of Beckett, and the humor of a Coover or Pynchon.”
His writing often crosses visual, as well as written genres, drawing on science and the arts to take up themes of how we represent what we think we know, and how these representations shape our lives. His essays on genetic and body art and literature have been published widely, as have been his short fictions. He holds a doctorate in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He lives in the Uptown Neighborhood of Chicago, and in South Bend, where he is on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame and teaches in the program for creative writers. His website is here.
I interviewed Steve Tomasula here.
“Just as soldiers or nudists are able to identify each other by their dress, so a wordless language developed by OZ that allowed even the thinnest of demographic slivers to find mates, identify enemies, and do all the things that people must do in order for their work-a-day lives to unfold.”
IN & OZ is a brief novella that reads like a modern fable, the latter city of course evoking the yellow brick road, the ruby slippers, and all that fantastic jazz. In this OZ, we have a world of the plastic rich that looms over IN, which is an underworld of the gritty poor. The absurdist elements in each region vaguely evoke that other architect, Calvino and his Invisible Cities.
“The Essence of OZ Building was the tallest in the world. […] The hallways were elevators, the closets were elevators, the stairwells were elevators, the elevators were elevators, of course, but so were all of the offices, [employees] spent their days gliding up and down, serenaded by elevator music….” Conversely, the character Composer lives in “a deep shaft, created by the quarrying of granite used for the skin of the Essence of OZ Building and which, therefore, was that building’s inverse image, as deep as the Essence of OZ Building was high, and with its exact shape. Locals knew it as The Essence of IN Hole.”
All five characters are referred to, not by names, but by their occupations if not their aspirations, such as Poet or Photographer. The main character, Mechanic, resides in IN and has something of an existential crisis: instead of fixing cars like his job warrants, he redesigns them so that their insides are outside in a myriad of ways that confound and horrify customers: “…he could no longer participate in the lie that was Not-Car, the lie that blinded people from the beauty of Truth that resided beneath the false beauty….” Heideggerian indeed.
A kind of love interest is found in a woman from OZ who is an auto designer, referred to as Designer, naturally, and she creates the slickest and sexiest concept cars, auto-bodies that hide the true workings beneath. Opposites play a large role in this philosophical tale, this multivalent search for meaning, especially vis-à-vis art, and despite any hope the reader may have, one can predict that Mechanic’s love won’t transcend the boundaries between them, even if, or especially because, he sees her as “a river goddess, bringing into existence not only the river but the banks it cut, the rocks it polished, the forests it watered, the trees it uprooted, the rapids it rode and the fall it plunged down along the way.”
This brief book is quite simple when compared to the two novels that Tomasula published before, though still grand in the themes it probes, and it can work as an apéritif for those longer works and others. There are only a handful of metafictional or textually-aware tics that spice up this fable, which is a story that’s traditional in spirit if not execution, including the illustration of a billboard war in the middle (those “cancer[s] of canned thought, a kind of anti-poetry”) and a barrage of multilinguistic babel near the end. Overall, it’s a more or less satisfying read despite its brevity and worth checking out if you’ve enjoyed Tomasula’s other works, but I’d recommend starting first with the fireworks in VAS: An Opera in Flatland or The Book of Portraiture.
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George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.