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Spotlight on: Meat Puppet Cabaret by Steve Beard

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Meat Puppet Cabaret by Steve Beard Steve Beard, Meat Puppet Cabaret (A Baroque Novel)

"Baroque: Elaborately or grotesquely ornate; whimsical, bizarre."
-- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Fifth Edition

Yeah, I really had to look it up. Prior to the trial by fire that was my exposure to author Steve Beard's Meat Puppet Cabaret, I had never heard of "a baroque novel" (as the cover describes it), let alone read one. I didn't even know that baroque described anything other than the musical era in which Johann Sebastian Bach flourished.

But it turns out I have come into contact with other baroque novels before. It's the last word of the definition that is the most telling, especially with the knowledge of Raw Dog Screaming Press as a major proponent of the bizarro movement. Bizarro fans should eat up Beard's novel (though it is doesn't really fall into that category), as should fans of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, and anyone who has enjoyed movies directed by David Lynch. Meat Puppet Cabaret is deliberately weird, but it is also amazingly readable.

Beard (Digital Leatherette) has made his book so ineffably strange and off-kilter that you can be forgiven for missing the brilliant underlying narrative. Even the book cover copy is misleading; you would think that Meat Puppet Cabaret is a novel about "Jack the Ripper ... a demon summoned ... to steal Princess Diana's baby," but those are only the ideas behind the novel: they're the catalyst of the story, but the actual story is the aftermath.

Our focus is on characters with improbable names like Doctor Double Oh No, Eddie Boy Krishna, Dead Girl, Professor Natasha Supanova, Mark 23, and Jack the Mack (who may or may not actually be each other) as we follow them through a series of events that are as convoluted as they are imaginatively presented. Beard uses all the media available to him and Meat Puppet Cabaret is a collection of tangentially interrelated vignettes, each possessing a different format from text messaging to investigative reporting, from a video game script to an interrogation, from pure dialogue to pure narrative. They are consistent within themselves but totally different from each other; a single character can be known by two different names, depending on the subplot, and it's up to the reader to sort it all out.

Steve Beard is either utterly brilliant or totally mad, and though I know the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. To say that Meat Puppet Cabaret was a challenging read would be a hyperbolic understatement. Nevertheless, there is a deep underlying plot beneath all the bells and whistles -- an completely fascinating storyline (peppered with astonishing revelations) that reaches a wholly satisfying conclusion. You simply have to take it at its own pace. Trying to force your own expectations upon it would be like trying to perform the Pink Lotus descent with less than 1000 units of tezma, and like Eddie Boy Krishna says, "That Pink Lotus descent will screw you every time."

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