The Undeserved Obscurity of an American Kafka: Michael Cisco and The Narrator

Few writers within the realm of nonrealist or "weird" fiction has more right to feel unjustly neglected than Michael Cisco, who over the course of several novels, including his critically acclaimed debut, The Divinity Student, has forged a singular path in creating visionary, phantasmagorical settings, uniquely alienated characters/anti-heroes, and genuinely creepy happenings. Cisco is, at this point, sui generis, and brings a healthy absurdism and dark sense of humor to his fiction as well. Following on his incendiary and utterly stunning The Traitor, Cisco now offers up The Narrator, a novel that would have made my top 10 of the year if I had encountered it soon enough. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the novel has only been reviewed in a handful of places to date.

In the novel, the narrator Low is conscripted as a Narrator (a recorder of events) into an army to fight against the "blackbirds," who possess lighter-than-air armor. But first, our hero must play a waiting game in a city of cannibal queens and uncanny dead things, with priests for both the living and the dead, and the strange remnants of a mighty imperial power that must be avoided at all costs. Once mobilized, Low sets off on a journey that is by turns absurd, surreal, deadly, and one of the great feats of the imagination thus far in this new century--and one that includes scenes and moments I've never experienced in any other work of fiction.

Given its unique qualities, The Narrator seemed like a good candidate for the troika of blogger reviews that myself, Larry Nolen, and Paul Charles Smith have engaged in for Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps and Matt Bell's story collection How They Were Found. We also added in a guest blogger, J.M. McDermott. Here're some excerpts from those reviews to give you further triangulation and, hopefully, anticipation...


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