Book Review: Garbage Head

By Ben Hoffman

Garbage Head is a post modern epic. The book chronicles the adventures of a character of the same name–though not his real name, of course–but the book doesn’t waste any time on the point. Brevity is the name of the game in Christopher Willard’s Garbage Head and the average paragraph length clocks in at one medium-sized sentence. Although the piercing prose and rapid subject shifts can be jarring at first, the experience quickly resolves into a rewarding, if intense one.

Garbage Head himself is a mainly silent protagonist trekking through a world so loud its only apt description is “ADHD-addled.” The immediate dissonance apparent between Garbage Head and his information-rich environment serves as a brilliant access point for the reader into the book’s one-shade-off culture, a cyber-punky, word-pedaling, celebrity-worshipping simulacrum of our own.

The dramatic tension comes from Garbage Head having the bizarre precognitive ability to say what celebrities say before they do. This lands him not only at the doorstep of the world’s most popular talk show, but into the disgustingly accurate heart of his world’s fandom. Garbage Head’s talent is used to great effect in the narrative as commentary on the nature of celebrity and its obsessive followers.

All the while, Willard uses a stellar supporting cast and an uncanny knowledge of all aspects of his language to push the story along with two parts style to one part point. Case in point, one of the secondary cast is a PhD student struggling to write a meaningful paper on his society and although his words are often less than subtle, they are pretty and powerful:

“In 1977 the president and founder of Digital Equipment said ‘There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.’ Now everyone has a computer in their home. The revolution of success turned into ugly access. Access equals abscess,” the PhD student starts a chapter, demonstrating at once how Willard’s semiotic and cultural criticism can be subtly poetic and incredibly forward-thinking.

Willard’s deft words serve as the best guide through the world he has laboured to bring us and it’s not uncommon to find oneself laughing or recoiling on behalf of the characters who can’t get a word in themselves.

Garbage Head proves to be a sweet, funny, sad and thoughtful cosmology so reminiscent of our own problems one cannot help leaving the novel with a sense of knowing something more about oneself, an achievement that Willard has every right to feel gleeful about.

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