The Procession of Mollusks
by Eric E. OIson (Astrophil Press)
Eric E. Olson’s novel The Procession of Mollusks begins with a quote from Ween’s The Mollusk. For those not initiated into the mindmeld fuzz-pop euphoria of the legendary underground band, being on the wavelength with a great Ween album is like either being part of the best inside joke you’ve ever heard or realizing that the inside joke isn’t even a joke at all (look no further than “Buenos Tardes Amigo” from Chocolate and Cheese in which the band puts on their silliest and most inane Cheech-Spanglish accents, yet proceed to deliver the best spaghetti western saga ever).
I bring this up because part of me wants to wax eloquent about Olson’s affinity with Ween, about the elegant, indefatigably deep inspiration the band and their anomalous output has unavoidably brought the writer and his novel, but what quickly transforms The Procession of Mollusks from well-versed fanboy lit into a deliciously unique standalone debut – one of the best in quite some time – is that Olson doesn’t merely tap into a voice that fits snugly underneath the umbrella of the Ween ethos: He one-ups Dean and Gene by utilizing their evocative lyrics as bedrock, then granting The Procession of Mollusks a literary architecture of its own.
It’s the kind of novel that isn’t distinctly benefitted by humdrum synopsis – there’s a gross-out murder, a reporter and video-crazed 13-year-old who attempt to get to the bottom of it, as well as a Smörgåsbord of bizarre townsfolk, Dead Ringers-ish machines and a probably-antagonistic influx of the eponymous Mollusca – and this complexity is one of the novel’s boldest and most impressive merits. A review blurb on the back of the paperback’s first edition uses the term ‘post-genre’, which is potentially wildly pretentious, I know, but somehow the term works here. The Procession of Mollusks is by no means a minimalistic novel, nor is it narratively cut-and-dry, but (like the Ween records that infuse it) this jovial, labyrinthine rhetoric allows for postmodern accolades to be thrown at it without reservation.
Lynchian is an easy one (carve another notch in Olson’s esteemed study of popular culture and how it informs his work: The man knows his Twin Peaks), but there’s quite a bit of Ken Kesey in here, too (Mollusks seems to have a very Beat sense of nostalgic pull to it that Sometimes a Great Notion-era Ken would probably have been quite fond of), and it’s possible that even in the course of just one page of the novel, one feels evocations of, say, both Night of the Living Dead and Hitchcockian suspense – often simultaneously. “Today is the first day of the March of the Mollusks,” writes the author as the book careens into its last third, bringing with it the kind of ominous avowal that Jimmy Stewart would have delivered in a hushed tone in any number of Hitch flicks.
What it boils down to is that while some authors exploit postmodernism as an excuse to simply shoehorn older cultural sentiments into their own, Olson finds a way to throw his nuggets of various cultural approach into his writer’s bag of tricks (I can see a well-worn Ween concert sticker affixed to this bag) and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t pull a rabbit out of the thing.