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Forrest Armstrong. Asphalt Flowerhead. London: Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink, 2009. 148 pp. ISBN 9780981011776. $13.95 pb.

Tom Bradley. Vital Fluid. London: Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink, 2010. 151 pp. ISBN 9780981011783. $13.95 pb.


Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink is a new Canadian publisher of avant-garde and experimental fiction. Their material incorporates elements of surrealism alongside complex metaphysical concepts, spanning every genre yet conceived, often with a fantastical edge.

The depth of invention, skill of execution, and tendency toward the cerebral on display here are unparalleled ... anywhere. As a reader I've always actively sought out such works, and it's almost inconceivable to find so many, at such consistent quality—with perpetually divergent content—available through any publisher.

This extends, of course, to some of the most interesting authors associated with Bizarro today.

Asphalt Flowerhead is something like what you'd get if you digitized William Gibson, took out a piece of Burroughs' brain, spliced them, but added a considerable touch of humanity (and maybe a splash of Dada). This is a novel about characters who still, on some level at least, believe in Big Ideas enough to dedicate their lives to them, mingling hefty emotive impact among the aesthetic.

More than anything, Armstrong can fucking write. Utilizing a language heavily built upon phrase-shifts and its own hallucinated mechanics, the degree of virtuosity he exhibits is stunning: he juxtaposes a somewhat straightforward narrative (highly naturalistic, delightfully executed) with bursts of inconceivable imagery in the most organic manner you can imagine.

There's a noticeable Beat vibe throughout, in which ideas—however impossible to grasp—become focal points for social energy. Asphalt Flowerhead channels and examines these energies. The characters have nothing and so are forced to create a reality of their own—one that is, by necessity, disconnected from the real.

In some senses, this is an Orwellian novel. But despite the best efforts of its characters, nothing is changed. Few things could be truer to life.

In Vital Fluid, aesthetic takes a back seat to invention and humor. Despite an apparent lack of similarity, I was reminded of a much more successful version of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Reading this, you laugh. Sometimes you feel badly about it, but you still laugh.

Tom Bradley is working with the most obtuse materials possible, quite a bit of it drawn from pop culture (not to mention some very surprising characters), but he treats each scene like it's sacred. He's taken extensive, delicate care in constructing even the most minute elements, resulting in a series of absolutely individualistic, entirely unforgettably moments.

This extensive attention to the subtleties of narrative distinguishes the novel. It feels like a casual read, but really it's something much deeper. There are even moments of startling, entirely naturalistic poignancy—a definite counterpart to the general insanity—that strike me as some of the most profound I've ever come across.

This book is made of water: it flows. Or, more accurately, it's made of Vital Fluid: essential, refined. I laughed about once a page. It's the simplest thing I've seen from Crossing Chaos, but the quality is equally high.

—Kyle Muntz