Charlie Kaufman of Being John Malkovich ...
... and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ...
... fame is one of those writers with who you can never tell if they're kidding, and nowhere is that less clear than his debut novel, Antkind, released this summer. It's about a film critic who discovers a masterpiece of a three-month-long film that is shortly thereafter destroyed in a possibly supernatural fire that also leaves his memory impaired and his determination to recreate the movie, and that's where it gets weird.
For one thing, the novel appears to be set in a universe like ours but with tiny differences. A Beautiful Mind was directed by a man named Ronson Howard. Christopher Nolan exists, but he hasn't been married to an English woman named Emma Thomas since 1997. At one point, in the context of Dunkin' Donuts and not filmmaking, the narrator looks at the book version of the camera and says, "Do not try to compete with me, Christopher Nolan. You will always lose. I am the smarter of us." Sooo ... whatever's going on there seems like none of our business.
Things like that. What does it mean? Unclear.
It still could have been a straightforward story, but Kaufman knows no way except bendy and all directions at once, so immediately after the narrator embarks upon his quest, he enlists the help of a hypnotist who convinces him he's shrinking. All kinds of weird things start to happen to him, like developing a new habit of falling down manholes and encountering plural doppelgangers (after killing the first one). There are numerous side plots, often involving a fictional fast-food restaurant called Slammy's that, at one point, becomes embroiled in a war with an army of android clones of President Donald Trunk (not a typo).
"The Block Theory of the universe, the Kentucky Meat Shower, time-traveling clones and clown fetishism also feature," The Guardian explains entirely too calmly. "And that's before we get to the hyper-intelligent far-future ant who may or may not have accidentally invented a virus that travels backwards in time."
Basically, you'll be longing for the simplistic-by-comparison mindfuckery of I'm Thinking of Ending Things. We give it an A-.
Top image: Focus Features