By Jet McDonald (Eibonvale Press; 2011)
In this novel, the first by English writer/musician Jet McDonald, we’re introduced to the burgeoning industry of Pet Furnishing. This practice began with a dog whose owners for some reason sawed off its legs and replaced them with castors. From this grew a lucrative retail niche, with warehouses dedicated to turning dogs into furniture springing up throughout England. The protagonist Telby (as in Terribly) works as a dog comber in one of those warehouses, where he falls in love with the fetching Ravenski, who happens to be one of his bosses. Unfortunately Telby is fired after he and Ravenski break the back of a dog bench by sitting on it together, which causes the dog’s innards to spill out onto the floor.
Telby is still hot for Ravenski, and somehow cons his ways into Pet Furnishings’ corporate elite. This is despite the fact that Telby has a debilitating bladder infection that has a tendency to flare up unexpectedly and suffers from B.P.E., meaning Brief Periods of Evangelism in which he suddenly breaks into religious sermons. At least his nuttiness fits in with that of his decidedly eccentric co-workers, who include Telby’s pretentious assistant Abel, who’s too busy laboring on his two page “novel” to pay Telby much attention, his mistress Ibore, who lives in a penthouse with a projected view that can be zoomed in and out, and Ravenski herself, who no longer recognizes Telby. He, however, is not about to halt his pursuit.
In the category of surreal satire this crazed fantasy is a standout. Not all of it works (even in a surreal universe Telby’s rise through Pet Furnishings’ corporate ranks is hopelessly implausible) yet Jet McDonald’s satire is quite pertinent in its exploration of corporate psychopathology, artistic pretension and the power of love. Furthermore, McDonald’s deranged imagination is a wonder to behold, always topping itself in madcap invention.
Things grow quite dark in the book’s latter pages. Here Telby, having been (voluntarily) bitten by a rabid dog, embarks on a rabies induced fighting and fucking spree throughout the city. Following this he gets one of his testicles surgically removed (as a show of enforced loyalty to the corporation) and replaced with that of a dog. Then there are the violent animal liberationists who come to have an increasing presence on the narrative, and the horrific fate of Ibore, who’s transformed into a “kind-of-woman” complete with a disembodied vagina.
Obviously this isn’t your grandmother’s corporate satire. The novel will surely upset just as many readers as it enchants, yet in today’s economy-devouring corporate culture I believe Jet McDonald’s raunchy, surreal and altogether outrageous brand of absurdity is exactly what we need.