The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney
by Christopher Higgs
Although it includes direct challenges to the reader to stop reading, keep reading, and clap, The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney is not quite meta-fiction. It's more batshit-crazy fiction. Line drawings of the fictive author in a David Foster Wallace headband? You got it. A "Discursive History" of the number five? Never fear. A John Hodgman-eqsue recounting of the founding of America? That's in the "Encore," the part of the book the reader is supposed to clap for. Anyone who gets there probably will.
Presented as the collected stories, poems, and experiments of a Midwest-born academic who disappeared in 2007, Marvin K. Mooney sets the tone with its "Prolegomenon" a 43-page introduction that features scholars such as "Dr. Alphonso Carothers" and "Twyla Faye Robinson" commenting on the text. Some of these professors love Mooney; others beg that the reader go no further; one suggests that the reader's time would be better spent helping a friend bury a body. Change "Marvin K. Mooney" to your favorite underground experimental literary hero and you have an accurate picture of what goes on the message boards and blogs where such fiction is discussed. When Mooney himself invokes South Park's "Chewbacca Defense" to argue for his own brilliance, he reminds us: this was supposed to be fun.
The actual text of the book runs from serviceable Brian Evenson-style sentence fragments to annoying monkeys typing ("A paper fetch for the weather bus everlasting," anyone?), but no single piece runs too long and through them all the reader encounters Marvin K. Mooney the man, a lovable angry pothead, unlucky in love, full of self-doubt, honest enough to admit that he wants validation. He never makes it seem that he is putting anyone on; he makes it seem that he cannot write any other way.