The Blast, by David Ohle. New York, New York: Calamari Press. 98 pages. $12.00, paper.
It is not without merit that David Ohle’s last name rhymes with “holy.” For all intents and purposes, Ohle is the patron saint of a kind of psycho-dystopian absurdity that is at once brutal, hilarious, and weird. Sainthood, however, has been late in coming for Ohle. His first novel, Motorman, first published by the venerable Alfred A. Knopf in 1972 (and not, as he has recently reminded us, under the auspices of Gordon Lish), was out-of-print for over thirty years before it was resurrected from cult obscurity on the occasion of his follow-up novel, The Age of Sinatra. Since then (2004), Ohle has maintained a fairly regular publishing schedule, each new book adding dimension and oddity to Ohle’s haywire universe of government-induced forgettings, elective disfigurement, nearly-dead stinkers, and Jellyheads. And this year, with The Blast and his forthcoming novel, The Old Reactor (Dzanc Books, 2014), Ohle’s personal brand of maladjusted weirdness may well achieve its zenith.
For Ohle acolytes, one of the major draws has been his witlessly charming character, Moldenke. The successful recipient of a four-sheep-heart transplant in Motorman, Moldenke is the protagonist of Ohle’s first two novels, in addition to being featured in his third, The Pisstown Chaos (is there a better book title?). He has also been confirmed to appear in Ohle’s forthcoming novel from Dzanc, a point of high anticipation among fans. I mention this because Ohle’s shorter works, the double-novella Boons & The Camp and, most recently, The Blast, both of them from the same fictional world, do not feature Moldenke. As such, there is an impulse to read them as derivative. The Blast, however, finds Ohle barreling forward, his deranged world careening along, gleefully ambivalent of its Moldenke-sized hole.
And of course it does. While Moldenke is an absurd joy, even more satisfying is the way Ohle’s fictional world mutates from book to book. In The Blast, the inhabitants of various townships survive in the wake of a vague, barely remembered explosion and the invention of a transportation system called “the pedway.” The narrative centers on Wencel the Pencil, nicknamed for his “tall, bony frame, long neck, and sharp, dark wit.” Wencel attends St. Cuthbert’s Boys Academy where he studies “Pop History and Emoticonics” and confronts ominous beatings based on the ever-changing rules regarding facial hair and appearance. The landscape is barren, littered with vicious packs of wild poodles, sand rats, and the occasional raccoon—unspeakable violence and poverty are commonplace.
In class, one of Wencel’s teachers lectures: “Listen, boys. There are those who say that because of all the forgettings, real history has been lost. They say all we do is reconstruct the past from poorly remembered oral tales, the ruins we find, and the few texts that remain.” When one of the boys complains about elements of their history defying logic, Wencel responds: “Loads of things defy logic,” citing the fallout of the blast, the resultant slew of “bad genes,” and the return of his “shriveled up” father who they have to shellac and keep in the cellar because of his stink.
The characters in Ohle’s world are, despite the absurdity, introspective—simple but not unintelligent. Despite the haplessness of their lives and the desperation of their circumstances, they seem, without an alternative worldview, content, happy enough not to be beaten for lack of facial hair, to care for their stinking, nearly dead family members, to subsist day after day on the same blandly prepared foods. It is, and this is perhaps what makes The Blast stand out among Ohle’s previous work, something of a hopeful book. Which, of itself, defies logic.
 I cannot speak for Boons & The Camp, as I have not yet read it.
Nick Francis Potter is a multimedia artist and writer from Salt Lake City, Utah. His website is nickfrancispotter.tumblr.com.