The Life of PolycratesBy Brendan Connell (Chomu Press; 2011)

This volume proves that genuinely vital avant-garde fiction is alive and well. Brendan Connell is one of the foremost purveyors of such fiction, and this is the oddest and most extreme Connell publication I’ve read. Every conceivable type of experimental quirk is evident in this collection, which represents a terrific sampling of Connell’s peculiar genius.

The novella-length “Life of Polycrates” starts things off. It’s a fitfully bizarre history of the ancient Greek ruler Polycrates, his achievements and the many eccentric personalities surrounding him. It’s written in the form of a mock history text, complete with copious footnotes. This sets the tone for the book, most of whose tales are drafted in the form of mini-histories set in various exotic locales and distant time periods.

There’s “Brother of the Holy Ghost,” about the 13th Century life of the man situated by Dante at the gates of Hell in the INFERNO, “The Life of Captain Gareth Caernarvon,” about a late-19th Century hunter whose game includes the most dangerous one, and “The Chymical Wedding of Des Esseintes,” wherein a Frenchman discovers, to his horror, just what is meant by the term Prague Wedding. Then there’s “The Search for Savino,” concerning a psychotic Symbolist painter, “Collapsing Claude,” about a man inexplicably obsessed with a repulsive woman, and “The Slug,” wherein a good-looking Italian man purposely turns himself into a vile, stinking vagabond.

Brendan Connell’s fluid and baroque sentences–“he craved to feel the air of her flaring nostrils, hot as a desert wind, against his stomach and thighs”…”He saw afterlife vaguely, as a man half-blind sees the blurred image of his wife being violated as he struggles to release himself from the chair he is tied to”–are rich and fascinating, as his decidedly free-form utilization of grammar and punctuation. Chomu Press is to be commended for giving Connell’s eccentric drafting free reign here (as in my experience such writing tends to be “corrected” by editors). I won’t pretend to understand this book’s innumerable oddities and enigmas, but at least they’re presented intact for us to puzzle over.