Jesse Wheeler, Dinner at the Vomitropolis (CreateSpace, 2013)
I should start out by saying that while my particular kinks are pretty wide-ranging, there are a handful of things that make me recoil pretty much instinctively. Vomit may not be at the top of the list (it depends on the day), but it’s always somewhere in the top three. So while I am in no way the target audience for this one (I read it on the recommendation of a bizarro-loving friend), the only thing that saved this one from the trash heap for me is that the only place Wheeler turned the book into fetish material, he was satirizing. Which is not to say that fetishism does not pervade the entire text, but Wheeler knows how to slot things into different levels where that is concerned. This is an impressive skill, even when it’s done instinctively (I can’t say that is definitely the case here, but it feels more natural than planned, so I suspect it).
The one place Dinner at the Vomitropolis DOES feel like porn is in the presentation; the three stories collected here have many of the same drawbacks one finds in cheap Kindle porn. Character development is nonexistent; the characters start out in one place and never go anywhere after that, at least not mentally or emotionally. The plots are…a little ridiculous, but I was willing to give Wheeler that one given that this is, at heart, fetish lit, in the same way I’m willing to forgive the makers of Pony Trouble! for coming up with that movie’s ridiculous scenarios. The stories are excessively event-driven (I hesitate to say plot-driven) as well, but given that lack of character development that’s not surprising. The final, and biggest, flaw is that Wheeler plays with character trajectories in ways that don’t make sense. I could never quite tell whether this was intentional or not, but characters who had been posited during an entire story as main characters suddenly had their storylines resolved halfway through, at which point the story would switch to another character as the main, etc. It makes sense to try and subvert the dominant paradigms if you’re creating outsider-style art, but there’s a reason some of those paradigms are so heavily-ingrained. I’ve seen other people try to subvert the main character paradigm before. I’ve tried it a few times myself (but I don’t write fiction for a reason…). You know what? It never works. Ever. (Hitchcock pulled a bait-and-switch in Psycho; Marion Crane was never the main character.) Here, it leaves storylines feeling unfinished.
Don’t get me wrong, Wheeler has some of the basics down, and the parts he’s focused on he’s honed to a decent enough point that if his subject matter hits your particular kinks, you will at least get something out of this. What I saw was someone with a decent amount of potential, someone who will be ready for prime time once he’s widened his scope a good deal, started paying attention to the niceties of character and structure. But Dinner at the Vomitropolis we will eventually look back on, I think, as early, unformed work by a writer just beginning to find his voice. **