In a post-2020 world it’s extremely tough to be shocked. Fact trumps fiction in the outrage department everyday. For example: Did you know I cannot spell oppurtunity? Not on first try anyways. I know that there are two o’s in the word. Whenever I write/type it–somehow I install two u’s. I also cannot say the word stethoscope, but that’s a matter for another time–today I’m here to talk about misspelled oppurtunity. I may not be able to spell it, but I know when I hear it knock. Can you? In a jaded world full of LIKE buttons and prefabricated reactions to everything, you may find it rare to be truly nonplussed. At least, for a sustained amount of time. If you think you’ve seen everything…allow me to offer an opportunity to hear a knock. Joshua Chaplinsky’s WHISPERS IN THE EAR OF A DREAMING APE knocks loud enough it will rattle your skull.
I ran this review by Tia Ja’nae in the ECR corner office earlier this week. She said what follows reads: “as manic as a Whoopi Goldberg fan trying to sell tickets to Made in America.“
Mr. Chaplinsky’s blurb goes like this:
The debut short story collection from Joshua Chaplinsky, author of Kanye West—Reanimator. Thirteen weird pieces of literary genre fiction. Singularities, ciphers, and regrown limbs. Alien messiahs and murderous medieval hydrocephalics. A dark collection that twists dreams into nightmares in an attempt to find a whisper of truth.
Boom thrill-seekers! Drops mic. Kisses two fingers to the crowd, points at attractive crowd member, flexes the now antiquated hand sign for call me, starts to leave. Handlers inform me there’s more I need to say and I’m escorted back to the podium…I mean keyboard. I know what you are thinking: that was unexpected. Buckle up buttercup! This collection defies simple categorization. There-by creating an opportunity for jaded readers, like myself, to be thoroughly surprised. While currently unheralded by most writing communities that would be willing to have someone like me as a member, I honestly think you’ll find reading this book to be a unique experience worthy of the effort. And just to add another textured argument to help construct this review of prose madness, I’ve included the book’s trailer, enjoy.
If you just watched that 11 seconds you have a pretty dope idea about what is about to fly at your face once you open the book. In other words…zero clue.
At first, it appears to be like the teeth in a mountain man’s smile…all over the place. It defied my pathetic attempts at forcing it into a simple marketing plan. One moment it offers you fresh tea and sympathy for all the gals down at the ladies auxiliary, only to switch majors after a master’s thesis about sexy melon fetishes gets sprinkled with a thick bukkake layer of King James mysticism. Don’t panic thrill seekers. If you give it some kind attention, make it feel wanted…maybe buy it dinner, take it out for an afternoon in the park just the two of you, hold its hand tightly, wait for the exact right time to lean in for the kiss, this book reveals itself to be an incredibly sharp, moving, and satiric collection that chews through the human condition.
Laughter, shock, heartache, and outrage are just a few of the surprises awaiting you inside Joshua Chaplinsky’s Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape.
There are a total of 13 textured stories in the book and the meaning of that number is not lost on this reader. There is literally something for every taste and because of that I’m only hitting my personal highlights and I do so in whatever order I g*dd*mn well please. Because this book taught me a valuable lesson that I will share freely: Life’s short enough you’ll one day regret never reigning as the Burger King and ordering things your way. So slip on that paper crown thrill seekers, sit in the corner booth, and lets dig in to this strange concoction.
TWICE AMPUTATED FOOT
Hands down my favorite story in the collection. Starts with the following opening sentence: “The first time my father had his foot amputated the surgery didn’t take.” From there Chaplinsky spins an emotionally charged tale that hit me in the feels harder than I was expecting. It is strange. It is beautiful. It should be read by all.
HAND OF GOD
Nothing quite like a modern revival. A good yarn that vibes along thematically with some choice scenes from Ken Russell’s The Devils if that could be made even more garish by adding TV cameras. My favorite moment reads:
“A pasty-faced televangelist mopped his brow with a handkerchief, pointed his finger. ‘Jesus wants you. He wants to come inside you, fill you with his—’
Jack pressed the OFF button. The image flickered but the TV stayed on.
“All you have to do is offer yourself unto him, bare your naked soul.”
Jack jabbed at the OFF button, but the televangelist jabbed right back, emphasizing each word with a finger point.”
In a distant future, the human condition has been constructed digitally and laid bare in a pseudo review of a vastly popular MMRPG by a retro gaming mag. LET THAT SETUP SINK IN, I’ll wait…Chaplinsky uses this as an excuse to deconstruct people in general. I know what you’re thinking…I’ve seen this before and I’m here to tell you not so fast. Yes, the vein tapped in this story oozes with despair and yet through that dark existential murk one catches a glimmer of hope. That moment resonates loudly after the story concludes.
What kicks off with body horror hijinks soon descends into the land of the surreal. A king’s fool wears the King’s ear around his neck and tells it secrets. LET THAT SINK IN…I’ll wait again but not as long so keep reading. The Fool King is unable to speak and has an army of mummers (animal/man hybrid beings) who may or may not be real. Enter the Alchemist who is determined to restore the world to rights by providing strange currencies. This parade marches to a different drummer and float along on some incredibly wild fantasmagoria (is that a word I can’t spell…I must add it to the list) everything escalates to a bloody and screwy finale.
SUPREME MATHEMATICS: A CIPHER
“A girl with a sword walks through the forest at night. Her thoughts hum like bees in a hive.” Thus begins the most bizarre entry (which is saying something) in the book.
THE WHOLE INFERNAL MACHINE
Therapy as salvation? In a not so distant future amalgamation of priests and book burnings, a moleskine journal relates a fractured tale about The Girl and nothing is as it appears. I struggled to finish this one as the jumps kept causing me to start over. While I struggled with the delivery–the story’s concept kept me going. If you read it and disagree please DM. Feel free to explain your POV and offer some different context. I really dug the title though.
NOBODY RIDES FOR FREE
Reality in this seemingly straightforward procedural noir doesn’t think you are ready for primetime. Soon the story breaks apart and reveals the live TV audience, and things just get screwier from there. A solid entry that reveals multiple layers of meta-narrative. It comes across as one of the most nuanced stories in the set. The characters weave around each other as piece climbs to an oddly satisfying climax.
LETTERS TO THE PURPLE SATIN KILLER
What could go wrong exchanging letters with a pen pal? Nothing really as long as your PP isn’t a cold blood psychopathic killer. Originally published somewhere in a ThugLit, this piece builds nicely and is extremely well paced. I actually read this story in the wild upon first publication and remembered it vividly. I was happily surprised when I saw it leading off the collection.
GOSPEL OF X
A liturgical satire that must be combed through slowly. It is presented with a high concept stacked like a NYC downtown apartment that is easily accessible for some and emotionally distant for others. Each chapter turn and free verse entry unveils a deviant narrative that is painfully relatable to anyone who has ever sat sweating through a summer evening at church camp. It aims for the heavens and sticks the landing on another plane of existence.
THE LIGHTS ARE OFF AND WHEN YOU FLIP THE SWITCH FRIENDS JUMP OUT OF NOWHERE AND SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOU. SURPRISE! Welcome to the review’s summation:
Hope and loss bounce freely around every page, as these characters face complex metaphysical and interpersonal conflicts. The comedic bits bite hard in their satire, all while getting to the black heart of the matter…the truth within the fiction. Just like in real life things easily turn peculiar. There’s a God figure at work behind these tales who is both cruel and just but not equal in either and worst of all…willing to give these unique characters freedom…a terrifyingly lonesome kind of freedom. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of puzzling multilayered narratives like HOUSE OF LEAVES and NAKED LUNCH. Overall I had fun reading it as the surprises hidden within made this book a QUALITY CHEAP THRILL.
Check out more of Mr. Chaplinsky’s work here.
More opinions on the matter:
“If you’re sick of tepid short stories that taste like watered down milk, Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape is the collection of multi-colored, bite-sized brain pan bullets that might just be the cure. Joshua Chaplinsky has an imagination both of depth and breadth, and no two stories are alike. You can practically hear the lively, fascinating, hallucinatory click of his brain throughout the book. An enjoyable read for all of us dreaming apes.”
—Autumn Christian, author of Girl Like a Bomb
“This is dark stuff, but fun, without any hipster wink of irony or cynicism. Writing stories that are simultaneously grim and good-hearted is a fucking tough line to straddle, and writing them well… let’s just say I don’t see that often. Chaplinsky walks a barbed-wire tightrope here. In short, good shit.”
—Craig Clevenger, author of The Contortionist’s Handbook