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The Gospel of Anarchy: A Novel by Justin…

The Gospel of Anarchy: A Novel (2011)

by Justin Taylor

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747261,314 (2.69)2
"In landlocked Gainesville, Florida, in the hot, fraught summer of 1999, a college dropout named David sleepwalks through his life--a dull haze of office work and Internet porn--until a run-in with a lost friend jolts him from his torpor. He is drawn into the vibrant but grimy world of Fishgut, a rundown house where a loose collective of anarchists, burnouts, and libertines practice utopia outside society and the law. Some even see their life as a spiritual calling. They watch for the return of a mysterious hobo who will--they hope--transform their punk oasis into the Bethlehem of a zealous, strange new creed."--from cover, p. [4].… (more)



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From the back cover:

In landlocked Gainesville, Florida, in the hot, fraught summer of 1999, a college dropout named David sleepwalks through his life — a dull haze of office work and Internet porn — until a run in with a lost friend jolts him from his torpor. He is drawn into the vibrant but grimy world of Fishgut, a rundown house where a loose collective of anarchists, burnouts, and libtertines practice utopia outside society and the law. Some even see their lifestyle as a spiritual calling. They watch for the return of a mysterious hobo who will — they hope — transform their punk oasis into the Bethlehem of a zealous, strange new creed.

The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor is one of my favorites of 2011 so far. It opens with David, a college dropout working at a call center in Gainesville who is addicted to Internet porn, jerking off and throwing his laptop into a bathtub.

At home there was no conversation. No back and forth. No feigned ease, no modulated voice. No voice, period. Silence reigned. Quiet clicks. The world opened up to me through a small bright window, my personal laptop computer, which was of course too heavy and ran too hot to actually keep on my lap, not that I wanted it there. I had to use a plug-in trackball mouse because I couldn’t get the hang of the touchpad thing. The laptop was barely a year old, still more or less state-of-the-art, and had pride of place on the desk in my living room, where I sat and surfed a wave that never crested, climbed a mountain that never peaked. Curved, oiled, chesty, slick, spread; sometimes I imagined the girls in a kind of march, and endless parade celebrating — what? Themselves, I guess, or me. pg. 9

David is unlikable. He’s the sort of lost that doesn’t really care if he’s found or not. He’ll accept any sort of connection. He’ll follow whatever path in order to get there. When he meets the punk anarchists, he falls in love with their carefree lifestyle. The residents of Fishgut are punks, hippies, anarchists, and anarchristians. After David quits his job, moves out of his apartment, and becomes a resident of Fishgut, the book begins to ramble in an amazing way.

Truth is, these Catholics’ moderateness, and more generally their modernity, is at the heart of what spooks her about them. How the archness and the archaism of their faith seems to fit so snugly in with the regular lives they’re all living right now. What can the gilded crucifix, and the Man hung thereon, mean to the boy who buys sweatshop-produced Nikes at the mall by the highway? To the girl with the sorority pin, or anyone behind the wheel of an SUV? She knows these are cliché questions, straight out of Anticapitalism 101, but cliché or not, the questions are earnest. How can it be that the crucified Christ means so many different things to so many different people all at once? How can He contain it all? pg. 63

The Gospel of Anarchy explores faith and belief — in God, in a mysterious and absent punk-anarchist, in nothing — and how faith and belief can be fleeting, can be found and lost, can mean everything and also mean nothing. For David, this newly found faith in “Anarchristianism” means everything. He lost his girlfriend, dropped out of college, and was working at a job he hated just to pay the bills. When he finds Fishgut, his life suddenly has meaning.

Truly transcendent moments seem to lose something in the re-telling–they tend to be fleeting, and rooted in some feeling of extreme presence: a stronger or better sense of self, or of synchronicity between the self and the universe. When writing is going very well it can feel that way, and this is what Katy has in mind when she goes to the Devil’s Millhopper in chapter two. Art is not a religion, but the making of it and the reception of it can both qualify as devotional acts. - Jonathan Taylor in an interview at The Rumpus

Taylor’s writing is better suited for novel-length works. His short story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, was good, but it could have been better. You could tell that he had so much more to say, that he had all this potential, but it was wasted on short stories. Taylor finds his voice in The Gospel of Anarchy. If you haven’t already, read this book. ( )
  joshanastasia | Oct 20, 2016 |
I liked this book very much but did not connect with it as passionately as others have. ( )
  Caryn.Rose | Mar 18, 2015 |
The Gospel of Anarchy goes from a sexist softcore porn male fantasy tale of dumpster diving Floridian anarcho-punks in Gainesville to magical realism...that centers around a cultish version of anarcho-Christianity...? After taking that turn it gets really boring. Like Jonathan Franzen or Mary McGarry Morris, the writing style is bleak, dystopic, vacant…not so much my thing...if this is a critique or depiction of the vast American suburban emptiness and alienation of sprawl, then ok but it feels sort of cheap, cliched and cynical. The characters are hopeless and don't seem fleshed out. Like, ok, if we live in a giant hamster wheel of chain stores along the interstate…we are still human right? So where is the humanity in this story? As far as dystopia goes, I like Stepford Wives, because at least there is an analysis of power happening. I don't know if the mysticism of this book really gets to anything real. When I looked up the author it seems that he is kind of a poseur who doesn't get it...like alternative rock representing the underground to the mainstream…he lives in Brooklyn and supposedly no one in Gainesville has ever heard of him but he seems to get ok reviews and know a lot of MFA-ified literary people? As much as I hate to give a book a bad review in its entirely, I guess I have to give this one a thumbs down. I really didn't like it. Another reason to seek out punks who write fiction I guess.
( )
  tvgrl | Jul 26, 2013 |
Taylor's novel is about a group of anarchists (punks, hippies, etc.) who become anarChristians -- defiers of authority who somehow end up following the biggest authority of all. The idea itself is really interesting. Even the title brings together two contradictory elements, and many reviewers have admitted they bought the book on title alone.

I had a really difficult time judging just how serious this novel was. The descriptions, thoughts, and actions of the anarchists seemed so much like caricature that I spent the majority of the book thinking it was a parody. Looking back I suppose it was in earnest. And if not a parody, then all the long-winded discussions over philosophy, the bad poetry, the railings over people who actually buy food, the existential conversations with no one...are no longer funny, but just incredibly boring. Like sticking your head into a room of high first-year philosophy majors and being forced to listen to their ramblings. All I'm really hearing is "blah blah the man blah blah bourgeoisie blah blah oh man you should hear them live they're so much better live."

That isn't to say the novel was a waste of time. Taylor's writing is masterful and his style unique. He flows in and out of tense and POV mid-paragraph, and he makes it work. It's a style I've never really encountered and I like it a lot. I have a feeling I'll be checking out his short story collection, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, soon.

You can read my full review here: http://virtualmargin.blogspot.com/2011/09/gospel-of-anarchy-44100.html ( )
  Astraea | Sep 28, 2011 |
Young adulthood is often a search for both self and meaning. As such it is prime ground for literary exploration. Yet while Justin Taylor's The Gospel of Anarchy gives a somewhat different take on the subject it's an exploration that falls short.

The story is built around David's search for self, which brings him into a loose group with an anarchistic bent living in a house they call Fishgut. The story is set in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida, in the late summer of 1999 and into Y2K. Both the location and time seem a bit odd. While some of the characters, including David, are brought there by the University, from which they have since dropped out, and others are "townies," Gainesville is a far from an hotbed of anarchistic thought. In addition, Taylor admits in a note at the end of the slim volume that this is a composite Gainesville, parts of it describing a city that didn't exist until after 1999. The 1999 setting seems a bit odd also. While the anti-globalization movement would draw significant attention as a result of the WTO protests in Seattle near the end of the year, Gainesville is plainly on the outside of that movement. And while anarchists undoubtedly made up part of the WTO contingent, it was anti-globalization that motivated the crowds, not any particular political theory or philosophy.

But since this is a novel, Taylor can set it when and where he wants. Yet the book still stumbles on other literary ingredients -- voice, character development and motivation.

Although David narrates the first part of the novel, once he moves into Fishgut the perspective for most of the balance of the book switches among the house's other main residents -- Liz, Katy and Thomas -- without a lot of rhyme or reason. There's nothing wrong with switching perspective but it's never quite clear why some parts of the story are seen from a particular perspective. There is not a great deal of differentiation among their voices, with a somewhat distinctive tone occasionally appearing to reflect an emotional state, such as in the midst of sexual acts. What is really surprising is that despite the various perspectives we get, none really allows us to grasp or appreciate the characters as individuals.

Yes, they claim to be anarchists and, yes, a couple have some religious inclinations, but how and why they arrived at Fishgut or their views of life, the universe or anything doesn't appear to be of great moment in The Gospel of Anarchy. As a result, the characters come off more as one-dimensional pieces moving around in setting where anarchism is an atmospheric overtone rather than substantive. Here, the philosophy or political theory seems to "no rules" rather than "no rulers."

David is a prime example. Even though he is the most developed character we're never quite sure what motivates him. Sure, the first part of the book establishes that he has an internet porn "habit" (as opposed to a compulsion or addiction) and hates his job cold calling people for telephone surveys. Granted, that might leave a person feeling dissatisfied and disconnected but why it might encourage them to be drawn to communal living in a run-down house isn't quite clear. Once David meets the people of Fishgut and stays there, he ends up in his own real life porno, an ongoing triad relationship with Liz and Katy. Yet his adoption of Fishgut's lifestyle and almost faux anarchism can't just be for the sex because if that is the pathway to insight, then millions of people are still and forever lost.

The meat of the book involves a grassroots anarcho-mystic-Christic movement that arises because David and Katy create a zine collecting some of the writings found in a notebook belonging to Parker, a long-missing early denizen of Fishgut. While far closer to an examination of self and life than the characters ever seem to engage in, the passages are largely rambling commentary involving philosophy, religion and politics. While this effort gives The Gospel of Anarchy its title, both are so unanchored and adrift they never rise above the level of arguably interesting observation.

(Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie.)
  PrairieProgressive | Mar 13, 2011 |
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