Author: Cameron A. Straughan.
Illustrator: Pradipta Mukherjee
Genre: Satire Fiction
Year Published: 2020
Nerdection Rating: Nerdection Good Read
Teetering the line between satirical and nonsensical, The Surreal Adventures of Anthony Zen is a collection of stories documenting the life of its eponymous character as he weaves between sprinting miles in seconds to not be late for work and taking oatmeal laced bathes for the sake of culture.
Easy to read, yet concisely written where no word falls flat, though some sections are more bewildering than others. The first chapter/short opens up as weirdly as possible, and from there on in, the tales never let up pace.
Each chapter exists as a vignette of Anthony Zen’s life rather than being a fully fleshed out narrative. There is no cohesive beginning, middle and end — yet the grander narrative and story does not suffer for it. Parts of this backwards world will be picked apart in a brief yet exploitative way, with no chapter feeling the same as the last, besides the constant of Anthony Zen (I shall call him by his full name as Staughan does throughout the tales).
Anthony Zen wakes up from a dreamscape in which he’s in a bar where men’s trousers are washed right in front of them, a Sigmund Freud impersonator shows up to wreak havoc across his mind before slipping out of his dream into an even more wacky reality. He’s got five minutes to get to work on time, yet he’s thirty miles away. What does he do?
He sprints the entire way there, forgetting his trousers in the chaos of not wanting to be late. Thirty miles in two minutes, even stopping to enjoy (or a lack of enjoyment) some food.
From visiting an arena that hosts competitions of wallet snatching, penny pinching people killing one another for the sake of entertainment (did I mention they have badgers strapped to their sides) to Anthony engaging in conversation with a co-worker named meathead (both figuratively and literally does his name embody the term); each tale exists to be more bizarre than the last, for better or worse.
To concisely label the plot of this book, you first have to realize that there is no plot. It’s a collage of weird, overindulgent stories that feel ripped out of the sponsored ads section of a 50’s pulp magazine.
My take on The Surreal Adventures of Anthony Zen:
While the writing is clean with minimal grammatical errors, the problem that halted some enjoyment came from the amount of absurdist ideas expressed throughout this novel. I’ve read my fair share of Vonnegut, early Heinlein and neither of those can hold a candle to the amount of ideas that are thrown your way, constantly, throughout this story.
It’s funny at times, yet at others asinine, like Straughan was slapping together as many random yet lucrative descriptors that are possible in an effort to keep the story ‘bizarre’. I’m a fan of the bizarre, yet when the bizarre gets bizarre, I get bewildered and pushed away from the core narrative at heart.
The short chapters / stories were the perfect way to facilitate this story, this character, as well as everything else that exists in this melting-pot of anti-culture.
The only lasting impression I can give is that if the story had followed a more conventional beginning, middle and end, I’d be more open to taking in the ludicrous world that was presented to me.
For fans of Terry Gillam, Kurt Vonnegut and any other satirical auteurs and authors that tell divinely weird tales that rip apart the clandestine culture of not just their fictional worlds, but our own.
About the Author of The Surreal Adventures of Anthony Zen
Cameron A. Straughan is a STEM teacher at a First Nations school. While he was teaching science and biology in England, he was diagnosed with autism. After decades of not knowing why he was ‘different’ and didn’t seem to fit in, it was a mainly positive experience which he is still adapting to. On the positive side, it has gifted him with a vivid imagination, unique perspectives, distinctive sense of humour and an absurd view of life, which he freely expresses in his writing. His vivid dreams, fascination with surrealism, love of photography and filmmaking, and professional experience with both scientific and technical writing helped develop his unique, clean, matter-of-fact visual style – where the commonplace is juxtaposed with the fantastic.
His writing has appeared in several popular publications including ‘Satire: The Journal of Contemporary Satire’, ‘The Dream People Online Literary Journal’ and ‘Black Cat 115’. He has performed his short stories at several open-mike events; including readings in Windsor, Ontario, and throughout Vancouver, BC. His award-winning humorous films have appeared in many festivals around the world. His play “Bear Mask” will soon be produced in London, UK. He operates the blog “Trapped on a Rock Floating in Space” and has previously published a collection of short stories entitled “Neurotica”.