Special Effekts

Review by G. Wells Taylor

The Wildclown Chronicle
Looks at D. Harlan Wilson's The Kafka Effekt

D. Harlan Wilson’s eclectic collection of 44 short stories, The Kafka Effekt could as easily be entitled a Hitch Hikers Guide to the Cerebral Cortex. Wilson introduces a menagerie of concepts, characters and forms that are somehow familiar and alien at the same time. This ambiguity is sustained throughout the book and makes the study of human existence ripping good entertainment while displaying a high-caliber writer at his craft.

As a reviewer I am reluctant to attempt to shelve this book in some relevant literary context or subsection because relegation to any particular category begins to diminish its impact. The stories are simply too enjoyable to be anchored to the title Art in any of its thoughtful forms or studious styles—yet Art they clearly are. That is the paradox of The Kafka Effekt and why it is an important and enjoyable book to read.

The stories in the collection do have a place within the literary genres; but they run a challenging course between philosophical treatise and the Twilight Zone. There is horror, religion and absurdity in this dreamscape that will have you laughing while shivers run up and down your spine.

These literary hybrids involve the reader’s imagination in disparate ways; its creative and destructive forms come into play while deep philosophical questions are probed. For example in the short story “Inside the Tin Man” images from Rod Serling, Woody Allen and Salvador Dali might be conjured but it also very clearly describes a powerful part of human curiosity and like any great literature poses a question to the reader. ‘Is this you?’

D. Harlan Wilson is a talented wordsmith, and like others who have explored similar surreal realms Lewis Carroll, Mervyn Peake, Samuel Beckett, etc. exposing these unusual concepts in a comprehensible fashion requires incredible skill as a writer. The writing is powerful and succinct, Wilson labors with love over the semantics of teaching, philosophy and science. If you love language, you will have a feast reading The Kafka Effekt because the writer sets such a sumptuous table.

For instance, Wilson’s “The Message” manages through the deft employment of a simple phrase to pick up where the aforementioned Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot left off. A paradox is quickly formed within the story when a person receives a message that declares nothing more than: “I have a message for you.” This story is profound in part because any reader who has ever experienced post-20th Century angst can appreciate it. The fact that serious readers of existentialist literature should study it is beside the point.

The Kafka Effekt is a collection that does not bare separation and should be taken as a whole. There are extremely funny giggles like “Warning on a Person” and the provocatively contemporary and neurotic “Eagle-Headed Man at the Airport.” The titles in the collection give the first evocative clues to their themes while immediately exciting the imagination. “Schoolgirl Road Rage,” “Details of a Conference Room,” and “Antiface” all deliver what their names provoke.

This collection simply stated, encouraged me to use parts of my brain that I don’t think I’ve used since my teenaged years. It reopens the mind to the discussion of existence while encouraging and entertaining the profound powers of the imagination. I mean this as the highest compliment to D. Harlan Wilson when I say that in The Kafka Effekt, he shows himself to be a Dr. Seuss for adults, he is clearly encouraging us to continue to push to new levels of thought and imagination—only in this case the Hat is in the Cat.

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