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I think you can interpret this novel in so many ways. It is excitingly original, which is wonderful… but it is also comically long. At just over 700 pages it marks the longest novel I have read and it felt about 200 pages too indulgent. If I were to remove an element perhaps the Mudd and Molloy stuff would go (I just don’t think the juice was worth the squeeze there).
To quote Antkind: ‘I don’t know what the audience would be for a book outlining a non-existent film.’
The book is about a three month long film, and the main characters attempts to both remember and recreate it. It’s an immersive experience and I found the setup to be wonderfully enjoyable. The middle was a bit more directionless. False starts and tangents aplenty. Kaufman pokes fun at himself via the film critic narrator (sort of endlessly. It’s a bit too heavy with self-deprecation) while praising Judd Apatow in comparison.
Antkind is funny, farcical, insane and dense. Sometimes I was questioning whether Kaufman was inventing a concept or whether it was actually real. One small gripe for example (perhaps one of you / thon that have read the novel can answer?), if Barassini was partially responsible for the invention of Braino in 2006 (approx.) then how could Abbitha journey back to 1983 and offer the story of Trunks to Barbosae at that time? 1983 was pre Braino, right? (Answer in the comments!) This single question should give you some indication of the level of detail in the book, and perhaps some of the madness.
I liked the ending and I’m really glad I did. I have my own interpretation of it, which I don’t need to put here, and I’m sure you’ll have yours. I liked the comparison of people being on a coach bus in transit. I enjoyed Calcium. I hope Jim Carrey gets a bicycle (in joke). If you’re receptive to this piece of art you might just become enveloped by it.
I will conclude with another quote from Antkind: ‘Is it a masterwork? Is it a sham? Am I being enlightened, or am I being conned? It is, it occurs to me, nothing more and nothing less than I bring to it.’
I made a terrible mistake whilst reading Charlie Kaufman’s debut novel. I had received it the same day as Blake Butler’s latest, Alice Knott. Amazon had supplied my Covid relief package, my portal away from pandemic paranoia. Butler has long been a favourite, but the Kaufman had me overwhelmingly curious – a first novel by the guy who brought us Being John Malkovich? It was Antkind first. However, as others have noted, Antkind is a long (705 pages) and unwieldy tome and, at times, laborious and repetitious. At around the 350-page mark, and after what felt like the 100th falling-down-a-manhole (sorry, a ‘personhole’ as Kauffman’s would be politically correct narrator continually reminds us) joke, Alice Knott seemed to beckon with increased urgency. Just have a taste of the first page, I thought, and whoosh, like falling into a Malkovich portal, Butler’s book utterly subsumed me. I returned to Antkind, shaken and somewhat bloodied, a week later, but it had been a terrible mistake to make – Alice Knott was an adrenalin rush laced with cocaine. Antkind is another beast altogether. Intriguingly both books are about displacement, mind-slippage, memory distortion and alienation – all too apt in this day and age (and versions of Trump-phobia and pandemics creep into both). But where Butler’s 304-page juggernaut gets to the point with urgency, Kaufman’s does so with innumerable zigs and zags, moments of true pathos and sparkling doses of Pynchonesque humour. And, like Pynchon, or even at his best, Philip K. Dick, Antkind is awash in multitudinous ideas and plot twists and bizarre characters. As a first novel, Antkind is truly something – exactly what I have yet to quantify – just don’t do what I did, which was unfair to Kaufman. Read both books most certainly, but keep them at separate ends of the house.
I think the real audacity of a something like this is that somebody surely told Charlie Kaufman at some point "hey Charlie, you understand that people are going to be wildly repulsed by the opening say...300 pages?" Apparently that didn't bother him as he spun this story that begins with what could generously be called a stretched and warped version of reality shown through the eyes of a completely unlikable protagonist and eventually transforms into something that operates on pretty much pure metaphor (again, if you're being generous) and loses all sense of "plot" in the traditional sense.
I mean, I suppose I have to give the guy kudos for not making this something easily digestible. I don't blame anyone for not making it to the end of Antkind even slightly. If you do push through it I would recommend treating it like a wacky, hallucinogenic roller coaster. One page this crazy thing happens! Two pages later we're doing something completely different and even more crazy! Plot threads are folded in on one another and twisted and tied into knots that Kaufman only really appears to have a halfhearted desire to untie once he's tied them.
You could make the argument that there are big chunks of this thing that could be cut out. Our lead character goes on long, overblown side trips of becoming obsessed with various women and driving himself insane in various ways along the way, and most of that could be neatly excised from the text and Kaufman's ultimate points would still shine through. I'm sure Kaufman himself would claim that every absurdist element present here is necessary, and I would be lying if I didn't at least appreciate almost every page of this book for the sheer circus act that Kaufman forces his words to perform. Long sentences, puns on top of puns, mutating well known words for no purpose other than to seemingly give them an alien quality and make them feel all the less real and relevant to our world (except for Judd Apatow, Kaufman has some BEEF with Judd Apatow, but he has even more beef with himself apparently).
In the end, if the words and the absurdity have carried you all the way through this thing you will have realized that the message that is being evoked here is really the same message Kaufman always brings to the table: a meditation on life's meaning, the quest to be seen and loved and validated, and how that is ultimately our curse.
There are beautiful moments of writing sprinkled all throughout this thing, wonderful moments of real poetry that I imagine would speak to any reader. The trouble is they are little tiny pearls stuffed into the diseased, rotting mind of an unlikable protagonist, and so it will certainly try your patience to get there.
I would recommend it if you're up for some adventurous writing from somebody who is undoubtedly a brilliant writer that has some stuff to say, but has no interest in saying that stuff even remotely coherently. Many have claimed that this book is proof that Kaufman works best when collaborating with another director in film, and I don't necessarily disagree. This is a mind that is uncomfortable to spend long periods of time in, and needs a filter to a degree. But if you're the adventurous type, go for it. At the very least I think everyone who has read this thing in full can agree it is pretty unlike anything you have ever read before.
More a haunted house than a roller coaster, though the routine around Disney's Hall of Presidents is a hell of a drop. Almost a nerd challenge around picking up all the overt references. (I'm sure he must have a private joke or 10 tucked away for his own amusement.) Not so much mind blowing, transformative, or neo-postmodern drama. More a thorough self-examination through the lens of a film projector. A very welcome diversion while stuck at home.
I'm writing this review having finished all but about the last hundred pages of the book. (That's fairly normal for me; I read a lot of books but finish them only when I really love them). The book is a fun read, but I can't think of any scenes or passages that stuck with me. It sort of ran right through me and then disappeared. I intend to finish it one day, but I'm not in a hurry.
I approached it from the standpoint of the main character being something like a comedically neurotic punching bag and am finding it quite funny so far. If you like protagonists to be somewhat more relatable I understand not liking the book, but there are interesting ideas expressed.