A unique book you definitely should pick up is the rather wonderfully eccentric The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell. One of these stories appeared in the World Fantasy Award winning Leviathan 3 anthology edited by me and Forrest Aguirre. This is a sumptuous and beautifully designed thick hardcover collecting all of Dr. Black’s many (mis)adventures along with a lot of interstitial material of the meta variety–delightfully cheerful and cheeky. Quirky, weird in a good way, with sublime writing, and often very funny. The image above doesn’t quite give you the true measure of the lovely texture and approach used for the cover. You can order here–paypal accepted.
I wrote the introduction to The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black and I’ve posted half of that intro below so you can get a better sense of what this book is up to…
DR. BLACK: A Brief Reverie
What to make of Dr. Black, not particularly the most orthodox of heroes or anti-heroes? As written by Brendan Connell, Dr. Black seems to have always existed and yet be utterly unique. He is simultaneously learned and, in certain environments, a bit of a fool. He has some tastes that are quite normal and others that are outrageous. There is always a bit of comedy as a sting in the tail of the more serious stories, and a seeming encyclopedic knowledge on the author’s part of the comic pratfalls of yesteryear in others.
We encounter Dr. Black at his most vulnerable in the opening story, “A Season with Dr. Black,” and at his quirkiest, too. A kind of stream-of-consciousness patter is interwoven with the events occurring in the foreground. We see the limits of his experience and discover that despite his vast array of eccentricities, which at times seem to have formed a hardened carapace around him, Dr. Black also displays a touching kind of naivety and trust. (It doesn’t hurt that he tends to be surrounded by rogues who are far easier to map with a moral compass…)
One of the doctor’s most endearing qualities is how he continues to offer up the unusual and yet relatable. In “Dr. Black and the Guerillas,” facing a firing squad, he divulges to us, not his interrogators, a collage of experience that showcases Connell’s comfort both with the character and language: “childhood = Alabama (to the sounds of Sweet Nadine: huge. crowned with red hair. her beautiful voice + his own father: a thick and elongated torso; great-great-great-great-grandson of noted physician and chemist Joseph Black = discoverer of carbon dioxide of a gentle and pleasing countenance. performed on the flute with great taste and feeling her voice ringing out inviting his mind inquisitive wanting to acquire feasting always on digits and alphabets small particles and the stars dry-embalm that potato or burn with magnifying glass) + the boy doctor himself making: a diffusion cloud chamber / an electric lemon / a snowstorm in a can; incidents of life = emotions & operations for the purpose of testing certain principles.”
This is a rather remarkable re-interpretation of “his life flashed before his eyes,” taking what in the abstract would seem destined for cliché and rendering it fresh and almost startling. Which then, in a lovely demonstration of the way in which Connell manages to shift tone, to pivot without effort, pratfalls into the absurd, and yet no less detailed: “the construction of a massive umbrella with which he was able to jump off the roof of a five-storey doll factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn / if he were killed he would sorely miss the chicken heart back at his laboratory on Long Island which he had kept alive for twenty-seven years pulsating in a solution of sea salt.”
What are we reading here, in these “adventures”? They contain grotesqueries galore, certainly, in the most delicious way. You could say that Huysman and other Decadents exist as amiable ghosts here, along with hints of a more surreal Max Beerbohm. But this is not pastiche, merely an indication of predecessors: Connell presents something fresh, new, and with a more modern outlook. The prose is at times reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov in its complexity, but a kind of raw earnestness not present in Nabokov manifests here, too. In short, the issue of influence is an elusive one, relegated here to the status of an idle pursuit following immersion in these pages. What is clear is that Dr. Black could not be quite so expressive, nor so learned, nor so assimilated in terms of influence if the author himself was not learned, expressive, assimilated. [continued in the book…]