The Havoc Tree, by Layden Robinson

Imagine going out with your best girl in 1955 to see the new movie at the local cinema. The curtain goes up, you take a bite of popcorn and wonder whether you’ll work up the courage to hold her hand. Then, the music starts and you get the “Don’t Dream It, Be It” swimming pool sequence from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. No intro, no context – just a group of people dressed in fishnet stockings and corsets (men and women) having an orgy in the pool while Frank-N-Furter sings. Then, when that’s over, you immediately get the prom scene from Carrie. Then, you get the first flight scene from Avatar. Then a random screaming gore scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. At some point, your date will ask you to take her home, and you will. The question is: will you go back alone the next night to see it again – and to try to figure out what it is? That’s what it’s like reading The Havoc Tree, by Layden Robinson.

The author’s description of this book is “words, thoughts, and manic rantings under the influence of strong drink and fine smoky treats.” So, if what you are expecting is a stream-of-consciousness narrative of the thoughts, dreams, fantasies, and paranoia of somebody who is blind drunk and high as a kite – then you’ve come to the right place. If you are expecting well-crafted English prose with a story, defined characters, comprehensible dialog, or a point – then you are absolutely in the wrong place. You have been warned.

This is a brief collection of short stories and one outright poem. It’s not a novella or a coherent narrative. Each short vignette is like an acid trip (well, what I envision as an acid trip) – some are sexually explicit and sadomasochistic, some are horror, and some are just insanely strange. There is one story, “The Shoes,” that has an almost classically Poe-like structure such that it is nearly comprehensible as a horror story. Not quite, but it’s as close as the book gets to something resembling normal. Mostly, the stories are like looking out from inside a surrealist painting.  It’s Hieronymus Bosch – the artist, not the detective. Again, you have been warned.

Now, if this sounds like your cup of tea (or cup of acid), then have fun with it. The author’s writing style is excessive in every respect, going on for pages in endless paragraphs filled with lavish phrases, excessive adjectives and adverbs, and descriptions that require multiple re-readings to decipher. But, I think that’s the point. This is a modern-day Finnigan’s Wake and Mr. Robinson wants to be the James Joyce of his generation. There may be deep meaning buried inside the dense words, or perhaps each person who reads it will have a unique experience as his or her own psyche clashes with the author’s images. This may be the mind-bending trippy wonderland you have been waiting for all your life. You may read it over and over, each time seeing new meanings and connections. Someday, this may be the sacred text of a new religion. Swim at your own risk.

If, however, all this sounds like something that would not help you sleep well at night (it won’t) and you’re looking for something more traditional – even within the horror/erotica/fantasy genres – then you should stay away. If you are annoyed by sloppy writing, irregular punctuation, excessive use of multiple adjectives and adverbs that don’t serve any useful purpose, repetitive phrases, inconsistent tenses, characters who lack any description or context, or a story that has no definable beginning, middle, or end, then you will throw this book into the nearest fire. Don’t start.  And the frequent (constant) use of ALL CAPS in the text!! (Stay calm . . . deep breath . . . ) These stories can’t be read with an expectation that the normal rules of writing apply. This is an “F” in any college (or high school) creative writing course. But, that’s the point. It’s intentionally off the charts. It’s a piece of Dada art.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s a taste:

“I fell head first onto a cast of suffers that prayed only to die and move on to brighter pastures, as I could feel sex try to seduce and have its way upon my vulnerable crotch and shattered mind; I could hear the hiss of the serpents more and more vividly. THE SOPHISTICTAED LUNATIC APPROACHES WITHIN STURDY MOTIONS AND MOVEMENTS.” . . . “loyal amphibious servants below used their sets of hideous fins to turn our vessel back towards the ocean’s openness and epic mystery ahead. Behind us, countless rising clammy figures of death attempted to rise from the grey-white shores, attempting to follow us out into the vast ocean waters, but to no avail; they just fell and became swallowed up deeper thicker into the sand below. The giant, I, and our army of slippery amphibious beings moved with impressive velocity deeper out into the darkened waters, moving towards destinations we would admire and then conquer. “Say hello to God, say hello to the Devil, and say goodbye to the past.”

Just read the preview on amazon. The first story in the book will give you a good understanding of what to expect. If you’re intrigued, take a shot of the strongest spirit available, then take deep breath and dive in.

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