Title: Wild Animus
Author: Rich Shapero (A. And also wealthy.)
(NOTE: purely by coincidence a peer of mine, intrepid explorer/writer Eric Notaro, read Wild Animus at around the same time period I did. For comparison purposes, or maybe if you’re more interested in the technicals, bebop on over to his little slice of the internet- it’ll be a good time.)
The first thing you should know is that I didn’t pay for this book. In fact, I’m going to hazard a guess and say if you have a copy of Wild Animus, you didn’t pay for it either. That’s because, in the seven years since it was first published by Outside Reading, Wild Animus has practically been given away. It is a book meant to be accompanied by three music CDs, none of which I listened to, because any book that has written on its back express instructions on how it is to be read deserves to be read however I damn well please.
Normally, I would entertain you with a lengthy diatribe on the stupidity of self publishing. However, that debate is for another time and place. Instead I sum up my feelings on this novel: it sucked ramcock.
I’m surprised that physical action didn’t happen within the confines of the book, all things considered.
As usual, a synopsis: A disillusioned University student named Sam Altman falls in love with a girl named Lindy and in a series of randomized events, winds up having her write her number on a hunting magazine that happens to have a picture of a dall ram on the front of it. He becomes obsessed with the animal and spends the rest of his short life attempting to attain a godlike state with it. I say short because, predictably, he dies on top of a mountain in Alaska while drugged out of his mind after abandoning his girlfriend for an ongoing acid trip.
It isn’t immediately simple to place the time period Animus is meant to be happening in. If you aren’t versed in the history of college riots, you have to do a little research. Due to the extreme amount of drug use being represented, a stab at the nineteen sixties isn’t hard. The Berkley student riots- where Sam and Lindy meet for the first time via running for their lives from teargas, how romantic- were a large part of the free speech movement and would have been a more useful setting for the book than Alaska. But let’s not tell Rich that.
The book is set up in two trading parts. The first part is the third person narrative of Sam and Lindy. The second is Ransom-formerly-known-as-Sam’s first person narrations of his time as a dall ram being pursued by a pack of wolves. The deeper Ransom and Lindy get into Alaska and its apparently awesome effect on acid trips, the longer the Ram’s sections get and the shorter and more angry the narratives become.
It is the words of the Ram that are meant to hold your attention as the story progresses. Unfortunately, they don’t. The sections are blocky and overly descriptive. The dreamlike feel that the author was presumably going for is lost in the constant repetition of ‘padding’ and ‘flanks’. If you squint or get really bored, it sort of sounds like you’re reading an awful porn novel. Eventually in my reading I got to a point where I skipped the Ram’s sections altogether; they dragged on me like tar and made me want to put the book down.
Characters in the story make sense only as they relate to Sam’s desired version of reality. I find this interesting, since it is rare we get inside Sam’s head when he isn’t completely fucked up. I can see no other explanation, however, for a group of experienced mountain climbers to allow a hippie to convince them that he’s looking for God and that they should abandon their original course for the summit of a difficult climb to go to some crater in the wilderness. It is completely unrealistic. In fact, the dialogue, the interactions, none of them have any base in actual development. This lack of real characterization leads me to Lindy.
Lindy is either the stupidest bitch on the planet or she’s..well, the stupidest bitch on the planet. When your boyfriend wants to find God on a mountaintop while blitzed and dressed up like a ram, guess who pays for it? The answer is ‘not him’. Lindy acts as financial support for the entire book. When she mentions to Ransom that she wants to settle down and have a family, he berates her for giving up on ‘their’ dream. She pays for the mountain climbs, she pays for him to go to Alaska, she pays for him to get high and she pays the price for falling in love with a druggie who really likes rams. Ransom believes that Lindy is his pack of wolves, driving him towards Animus; really, he’s doing nothing but driving her away. Like a good girl, she always goes back again, and again, and again.
There is an obvious misogynistic argument here, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Even if Ransom had been dating a man, I would feel the same about the presentation of a completely parasitic relationship. Call it being human, but if what Shapero wants to say is that you have to step on the backs of people you love to find God, then I think the bastard can wait.
If there was a point to Wild Animus besides one man being a dick because he couldn’t handle reality, I have yet to see it. There is nothing about Ransom Altman that I can relate to and nothing I find admirable or heroic about his story. He’s a man who, mistakenly believing that ‘artistry’ is the same as ‘godhood’, decides he will exist on a whole new plane of existence. To do this, he utilizes the acid. This completely invalidates him. Steven King put it best when he said that it didn’t matter what brilliance a writer or artist created when they were high or drunk, a loser is still a loser. If you feel that you need some kind of substance to help you create your art, then you aren’t an artist, you’re an addict.
If there had been one moment- one- where Ransom encountered Animus while not under the influence of drugs, then Wild Animus would have perhaps had a glimmer of hope for its story. That doesn’t happen. He dies alone and mistaken on top of a mountain. Good riddance.
“But Eusapia,” I hear you say, “though drugs are illegal haven’t they been a driving force behind artistic movements? We’re all grownups here. A fictional character can find God on acid.”
Yes. Yes they have, and yes he can, but my point is that without proof of the god Animus existing outside the realm of an acid trip, Ransom’s entire existance is petty. He’s looking for Atlantis, for El Dorado, for God. None of these things are easily found, less so when the intrepid explorer is not using all of his mind. Drug use could have been a good funnel point for the book. Instead it just alienates a more tight laced audience and leads to the inevitable.
I feel like I should note here that Rich Shapero seemed to be under the mistaken assumption that what he did with Wild Animus is somehow ‘new’ and ‘edgy’. Apparently, someone forgot to inform him that setting a story to music was around centuries before he was born. Oops. You’d think for a guy who set up his own publishing company to get his work out there, he’d have stopped to think about things like how to make the story not suck.
I should mention that in my reading of reviews and blog posts for Wild Animus I stumbled across someone mentioning that Shapero has said the idea is more important than the story.
Back the fuck up.
If the idea is more important than the story, why tell it in novel form? Even The Unbearable Lightness of Being had a plot, and that was Milan Kundera, master of the philosophy thinly disguised as something like a story. The whole point of stories like this- the Grimm Fairy Tales, Grendel, The Iliad- are not just to impart wisdom but also to make that wisdom stick. If you take away the story then all you have is a series of morals or rhetoric. In case you haven’t noticed, my friends, not a lot of people spend time in the philosophy section of the bookstore nowadays.
Wild Animus would have been better as a performance piece, including raging bonfire, deep bass drum, full ram and wolf ensembles. Then again, it might have been better never seeing the light of day. Rich Shapero spent an obscene amount of money hoping to become famous through a book that is too big for its idea, on the basis that someone out there- probably someone who does more drugs than me- would find it ground-breaking. He was terribly mistaken.
As a parting gift, I share with you this information. Any interview that Shapero did for Wild Animus is no longer linked on the internet. They all, mysteriously, seem to have vanished.