"The Kyoto Man" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press
Written by D. Harlan Wilson
2013, 231 pages, Fiction
Released on April 7th, 2013
When I received The Kyoto Man for review, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation. The former because this is the third and final novel in D. Harlan Wilson's Scikungfu trilogy. Having enjoyed the first two in the series, Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to Plaquedemia and Codenamed Prague, I was eager to tear into it. The slight anxiety I got was due to having to write a review, and with The Kyoto Man falling smack dab in the middle of the bizarro genre, I knew my work would be cut out for me. Because it's damn hard to explain to someone who has never read bizarro fiction why Wilson's novels, while a challenge to read, should be read.
Where the first two novels in the Scikungfu trilogy were a linear story, The Kyoto Man is quite the opposite. Each chapter follows a man who, for some inexplicable reason, turns into the city of Kyoto, Japan, leaving nothing but death and destruction in his wake. While it's unclear why he metamorphoses into a gigantic city, it is obvious that he is unstoppable when it happens. However, our troubled protagonist clearly wants no part in these transformations, and does what he can to stop them. Rather unsuccessfully.
The book is a collection of adventures of the titular character, told in styles ranging from "Criterion Prose" to "Stageplay" to "Phonograph Recording". No, really. Each chapter indicates when he makes the change from before the first time right up to the last time and has a subtitle of what the reader can expect. "The 666th Time I Turned Into Kyoto: Comic Book Panel", while only a page in length, is hilarious and brilliant. Read (or, rather, seen) on its own it's not funny at all, but within the context of the book, it's genius in its simplicity.
I suppose you can say The Kyoto Man as a whole is like that. On one hand, it's no more than a collection of short stories of one man's issues with turning into a giant city (that, according to the internets, has a population of 1.5 million people). But on the other, the stories don't work together on their own, you have to put them all together to get the bigger picture, something Wilson excels at. As with Dr. Identity and Codenamed Prague, the surface of his work is just that: the surface. But if you start scratching and digging, you'll find a wealth of subtext below. I'm not sure if Wilson is a damn genius or a raging lunatic, but no matter which it is, one thing is certain: he can write a novel that will make you think.
As I said, this isn't just a fiction book, but a bizarro fiction book. Which basically means, in my experience, you are dealing with structured insanity. Or maybe coherent rambling. And in this case, über violence. When reading an entry in the Scikungfu trilogy, you know people are going to get slaughtered in unique ways.
As much as I enjoyed it, I'm the first to say The Kyoto Man is not for everyone. I hate saying that because I think Wilson is one of those authors who deserves mainstream recognition simply for the fact that he's writing these thought provoking novels that could lead to interesting discussion and debate. But because the bizarro genre is still relatively new (less than 15 years), it's still a babe in the world of fiction. Yet, with authors like D. Harlan Wilson leading the charge, it would not surprise me when one day its genre identity will be as popular as those such as "horror" and "western". Fans of bizarro will no doubt want to pick up The Kyoto Man, and those just getting into it I suggest you start with the other two novels in the trilogy before inevitabley reading this one. Sure, there is something to be said jumping into the deep end feet first, but there are also times where you should do a little doggy paddling to begin.