Review: N.C. Weil
The Perfect Stranger, by Gregory SETH Harris
This satiric novel by Denver author and poet Gregory SETH Harris, set in a world similar to ours yet degraded in ways the story plays with throughout, offers the observations of a visitor, that Perfect Stranger of the title, “S,” who stumbles upon the micropolis. This place seldom has visitors, and residents’ instinct is to regard any with suspicion. And yet, he is offered a garret room in the mansion of one of the town’s important people, banker Charles Dinero (“CD”) Smolet. Living in that household, S gets to know CD’s wife, Eleanore (“Mrs. Sticky Buns”); daughter Penny, about to turn 17 and thus be eligible for auction for marriage; son William (“Buck”), a high school student at Gladiator U; and spirited child Pearl, whose shadow plays games with S’s. Though S is the primary character, Pearl is the beating heart of the book, intuitive and mischievous.
The micropolis is divided along class lines according to wealth, corpulence, and race, with ever-new books of codified rules designed to keep it that way. It is the season of the S-election, in which candidates for the ruling council are campaigning. And so we have intrigue: a group of young anarchists planning to disrupt the process; the populist candidate whose chameleonlike appearance and speeches change to fit his audience; and the sudden ambiguity of Buck, who seems set to win the top position by reason of his wealth and his primacy at the Turkey Shoot – of which I’ll say no more here.
The town Libarian, Neimann Gorge, an erudite misfit who lives with his Auntie McAsser and her nasty little dog, teaches history to the group of anarchists, meanwhile hoping to woo the dazzlingly beautiful Assistant Libarian, Mz Pritt. Here’s a sample of the prose:
“Saska Swamin,” Neimann began. “Slender as she is, is a tasty morsel.” He pressed her slim spine [an anorexic volume of natural lambskin] to his thin lips, looking inward a moment before proceeding. … “Hombres d’ Garbiage reinforce our mistaken assumption that we are less than we truly are. Some even exalt in their baser nature, convincing others to do the same. Thus we hire ourselves out to stress factories, servants to their (& ultimately our own), less-than-perfect nature. In the evening, we return home to lead lives of quiet defecation. Only the enlightened, the occasional brave, the uncommonly foolish – or the lucky – break thru the chains of the status woe to move ever closer to that wisdom etched in every atom of our beings.”
Harris holds up a distorted mirror to our times and society, and the warped version of our world we see there should give us pause: that micropolis and its residents are more like us than we might like to admit. And yet, he does it with abundant wit and humor. These strange times call for a reckoning, indeed a reconnoitering, and The Perfect Stranger is a great place to start.