twenty-six lies/one truth

Last night, roughly ten minutes after midnight, I finished reading twenty-six lies/one truth by Ben Peek. I’d started it yesterday morning, kept sneaking back to it during the day – pages 48 & 49 have tiny brown specks on them now; salad dressing splatter from lunch (sorry Ben) – and couldn’t go to sleep without reading to the very last page.

twenty-six lies/one truth is awesome. And I don’t mean that in the stupid, popsicle way the kidlets are using it to describe the latest flavour of cola product. I mean, it is awesome. Take a moment to clear your cache and consider the classical meaning of that word. Literally, that which inspires awe, admiration and wonder, and possibly just a little bit of intimidation and apprehension.

twenty-six lies/one truth is fucking awesome.

Go, get thee to Amazon and buy it now.

I didn’t buy it at Amazon. I bought it in the Dealers Room at Conflux 4 this year, primarily because Andrew Macrae was manning the table and I got talking to him, and the book was sitting right there beside Cock and Rynemonn and various volumes of Orb – all of which I already owned and which you should as well, if you don’t already – and his typewriter art cover is so damn cool, and I just wanted to buy something else. You know, conventions, dealers room, spending of money … it just happens. So I forked over my cash and got Andy to sign his artist bio at the back, and took it home with the rest of my convention booty. Where it sat on my desk until yesterday.

Now, here’s my embarrassing admission. I meant, rather vaguely but with solid good intentions, to purchase twenty-six lies/one truth when it first came out last last year. Over the inter-webby thing from the USA. But it was sort of pricey and the Aussie dollar was riding low in the water and I didn’t have a lot of spare cash at the time. Then I saw copies at Convergence 2 this year and, hmm. Well, it’s odd. The book isn’t a standard paperback or trade format. It’s softcover and relatively thin (150 or so pages) and, well, floppy. Like a baby stingray is floppy. And when I flicked through and saw the text written up as apparently random alphabetical entries peppered with cartoonish illustrations, it reminded me, instantly, of a rather shallow high-school text book. The sort you get given in lower higher school and are made to summarise on hot afternoons in during last period when not even your teacher can be bothered coming up with real work. Sluggish ceiling fans in first floor classrooms where the hot air has risen and remains trapped, and the clock hands don’t seem to move at all, and the best you can hope for is that a confused wasp might buzz through an open window and you’ll all get to evacuate into the equally hot but significantly less stale air of the balcony outside.

So I bought the latest issue of Orb instead and left Ben Peek’s funny-looking book where it sat. It looked like a bit of wank, anyway. The back of book stated it was, “the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody”, and then listed a whole bunch of apparently random words and names, including several repetitions of “cunt” presumably for shock value. Wank, surely. Like the insanely-formatted House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Wank.

Except that House of Leaves grew on me. Not grew in the sense of fungus or mold. More like a feral garden in a new rental house. One that was a real bitch to de-weed and cut back – especially the geranium that had decided it should be a tree – such a bitch that you couldn’t be bothered actually planting anything new, or doing much with it at all, only to find it shooting up once dormant little plants of its own accord. And after a while, you decide that you quite like it – even the monster geranium – that it’s interesting and unusual and beautiful, and it doesn’t matter a bee’s twat whether it looks like a “real” garden or not.

That sort of growing.

So I saw twenty-six lies/one truth again at Conflux. I probably wouldn’t have bought it that time, either, except for Andy Macrae’s Ditmar-Award-Winning-Artwork which I really do love. So, yes, a book judged by – or at least bought upon the strength of – its cover. Despite its baby stingray format. Stupid, huh?

This book is brilliant, and it shouldn’t be. What it should be is a piece of wank, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it absolutely would be. But Ben Peek is not a lesser writer. And twenty-six lies/one truth is a stunning, articulate, and emotionally rich novel. (Yes, it is too a novel, and pickled eggs to anyone who says it isn’t. Unless you like pickled eggs. In which case, dog turds to you. And if you like dog turds, you have bigger problems and I shall leave you alone to think what you want.) Of course, I recognise the fact that my own agnostic, left-wing sympathies are in close accord with the author’s and this no doubt added to the pleasure of reading certain sections of the book, but this is in no way the whole story. twenty-six lies/one truth is quite simply a highly intelligent, exquisitely crafted and wholly original book that manages to creep up behind the reader and land a sucker punch when least expected. And then it makes you think about it.

I’m not going to say anything about the plot/content/narrative; you can read the reviews and summaries on the above Amazon link if you really want, but I’d recommend against it. Suffice to say, you need to read this book. You really do. (If you’re a writer, beware. This is one of those works that makes you despair of ever creating something of similar worth.) Wait, okay, I will just say one thing about the content:

the autobiography of a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met nobody

That, right there? That’s at least three of those twenty-six lies already and you haven’t even opened the cover yet. By the end, you won’t even care what that one truth is.

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