Book Review: Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality; or, Searching for Andy Kaufman by T. Fox Dunham

What he calls the most important words he’s written may also be some of the most important words you’ll read, a song of mortality and a celebration of life that resonates in the heart and mind long after the final note is played.

The first thing you might think upon reading T Fox Dunham’s groundbreaking novel from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing is that he must have spent years researching this thing. And you’d be right, but probably not in the way you think. Because Dunham’s research was of an involuntary nature, having been diagnosed with, battled, and survived composite lymphoma— a rare combination of large cell lymphoma and Hodgkins. He was only the tenth person to ever be diagnosed with it and, as he says in his introduction to the book, the survival rate was non-existent. The terror and despair that must have induced is beyond comprehension to someone that hasn’t experienced it firsthand, nor would it be easy to understand the incredible strength it must have taken to battle that miserable disease. So it isn’t a stretch to say that Fox is the foremost authority alive today to write this book which he introduces with the sentence, “These are the most important words I’ve written, and if you don’t listen, your life is an illusion.” Here’s a bit more from his introduction to give you a slight inkling of what you’re headed into when you start off on this journey.

“This book is what it felt like to die.

I bonded to Andy Kaufman in spirit because he shattered the illusion of reality, though losing himself as he did. Reality is a construct, created by humans to give value to a system, to provide meaning to their lives. When you’re dying, meaning drains out of much of it, and you realize you created and fed into forces like fear.

Love is real. When I was burned down to nothing, a stub of my life, all I had left was love. And now I face it again as it grows in my neck, and everything all the source of this back burns anew, dragged along the hot coals until it ignited.

Read this and understand death so you can know how to live.”

So what is Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality? Well, for starters it’s like nothing you’ve read before or are likely to read again, except maybe from the pen of T. Fox Dunham himself. It’s the story of a dying man who, unlike Fox, is not on the track to survival, has in fact given up the effort of trying to fight it and instead chosen to follow a path of redemption and self-discovery. Having become convinced that Andy Kaufman is his father, Anthony, our doomed protagonist, along with his childhood friend Cynthia, Tolya the lunatic truck driver, and eventually Manhattan, the pregnant woman attracted to Anthony because of the death inside him, all set off on a surreal road trip to find proof of Anthony’s parentage. It’s a complex, surreal tale with layer upon layer of emotional and social revelation, an achingly human story replete with some of the most eccentric and therefore realistic characters you’re likely to have encountered.

Dunham has already proven himself to be a consummate storyteller with the short stories he’s published and his previous novel, The Street Martyr, and with Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality he has cemented his position among some of the best authors of this or any other age. Fox is a master of backstory, building his characters piece by piece to become perfectly flawed, messed up and lovable. It takes a while to get into the story, but once you get a feel for the characters and the motivations that drive them, you’ll find yourself unable to put it down, turning pages frantically to discover what happens to them next or what antics they might get up to. An analogy to Andy Kaufman’s own life and career, it’s a comedic tragedy that follows a dying man’s twisted Kerouac style road trip in search of his past, in a seemingly futile effort to find meaning in the present.

Every book has a great strength that really makes it work and this one does too. In fact it has several. The character development is flawless, Fox’s alacrity with backstory is nothing short of amazing, and the pacing is perfect, often feeling more like one of the theatric performances that permeate the book. But the thing that stands out the most about this often humorous and ultimately heartbreaking tale is Fox’s obvious love of the English language. His words are lyrical and beautiful, and you’ll sometimes find yourself so mesmerized by the flow of exposition and dialogue that you have to take a step back and recapture the story thread:

“Cynthia shook her head and studied the chick, her face beyond her long dark bangs. She hadn’t seen her youth before, not through the veil of bitterness she wore. She could never have been young, born so old and raked and eroded by the wind and the rain, by the neglect of a careless mother and the rage of a careless lover.”

Fox’s stories and novels are often poignantly heartfelt, frequently dealing with themes of death and dying and coming to terms with the finite boundaries of life, and they are always presented with the poetic and stunningly gorgeous language that seems to come so naturally to him. He’s a master of “show, don’t tell” and the images he paints are vivid, stunning, and sometimes disturbing, but never anything less magnificently colorful and crystal clear.

Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality is a literary tour de force, so deep and multifaceted we could go on for a hundred pages and never begin to do it the justice it deserves. T. Fox Dunham has lived a nightmare and from it spawned a thing of great beauty and meaning. What he calls the most important words he’s written may also be some of the most important words you’ll read, a song of mortality and a celebration of life that resonates in the heart and mind long after the final note is played. We loved this book and can’t say enough good about it. If you haven’t read the darkly sweet, lyric prose of T. Fox Dunham, you’re going to want to remedy that soon.


Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
eBook: (341pp)
Release Date: 26 November, 2015

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