Book Review: Life Is What Happens Between Advertisements by Brian Auspice

If you like your novellas to lead you off the beaten track into an adventure in narrative style, while still delivering an entertaining and thought-provoking story, you can’t go wrong with this book.

 

Brian Auspice’s first book, Deep Blue (Eraserhead Press, 2014), was released as part of the New Bizarro Author Series and, given that this new book is released through Journalstone imprint, Bizarro Pulp Press, prospective readers should have an idea of what they are in for. While the first was described by the publisher as a “down-the-rabbit-hole adventure into the depths of the human condition”, with this novella Auspice has consumerism and advertising in his sights.

The book follows multiple narratives, switching between separate storylines with each new chapter. There is what appears to be a television studio where actors Cam and Gaylord perform a formulaic sitcom, repeating similarly crowd-pleasing lines week in and week out, to the amusement of the live studio audience. In between lines they will recite brand names, hinting at Auspice’s larger message.

Then there is Henry, a home viewer who controls his television through a cable connecting his Smart TV directly to his brain. He is the archetypal consumer, plodding his way through a miserable existence, devouring his shows and, perhaps more importantly, the ever-increasing ads in between, and struggling to form any kind of human connection, even with the young lady in the coffee shop.

But is Henry simply a character in a screenplay being written by Olov, who is himself a character in a screenplay authored by Cam, a female agent for the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, Length Enforcement Division? This seems to be the case, as Auspice continues to jump between narratives, hinting at the different layers and how they each relate to the previous one. The novella isn’t always easy to follow, with the very different, yet equally bizarre, stories ranging from the melancholic and lovelorn Henry to the bleak, futuristic Dredd-esque cityscape where an agent responsible for weights and measures can run down pedestrians in a super-charged automobile on her way to gun down the purveyor of too-short rulers. This can’t really be held against the book or the author, though. Whilst reading, it is clear that this is as Auspice intended.

He could have most likely chosen any of the individual narratives and written that story from beginning to end. But would it have been as much fun to read as this novella, with its entertaining and adventurous style? Probably not. Half of the fun in reading it is trying to figure out how each storyline fits with the others. And it is clear that Auspice has put in a lot of work creating this Matryoshka doll effect, and the layout of the chapters as well.

Possibly more important than the actual story is the message that the author is conveying. It is there in the title on the front cover. The inspiration for the story came from a trip to the cinema where Auspice decided to count the number of times a brand was shown during the movie. He stopped at one hundred. We are constantly bombarded with advertising in every kind of media, and the marketing department are only just beginning. This book could be viewed as a satirical take on the effect advertising has on our minds, but it may also be a stern warning of things to come.

Although there are elements of horror within the book, it is at times very funny, the author blending the two seamlessly to great effect. It is a mixture that is typical of the Bizarro genre and Auspice handles it very well. He is never too heavy-handed with the consumerism message, his sense of humour keeping things light-hearted. And the techniques employed to deliver the story—whether it is the script layout of the Olov chapters or the short, succinct sentences of the grittier Agent Cam chapters—shows that he knows how to keep a reader hooked. Auspice’s experimental style pays off in his sometimes-horrific, often-funny sophomore publication. If you like your novellas to lead you off the beaten track into an adventure in narrative style, while still delivering an entertaining and thought-provoking story, you can’t go wrong with this book.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Journalstone–Bizarro Pulp Press
eBook: 76 (pps)
Release Date: 7 February 2018

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