Every so often, people encounter things which bring to mind the phrase “I wish I’d thought of that.” Art, invention and innovation can all conjure the mixture of surprise and appreciation that trigger that response. Far less often do we run across items which inspire the opposite reaction, “I’m glad I didn’t think of that.” That’s because, typically, terrible ideas rarely make it past the planning stage or, if enacted in daily life, are prone to rapid and catastrophic failure.
Alphabetical Africa, published in 1974 and written by Walter Abish, is an example of a novel which makes other novelists happy they didn’t come up with the central conceit, or at least pleased that they were wise enough not to act upon it.
The plot is meandering, the writing is disjointed, and that’s all to be expected because neither the plot or the writing is of particular importance. Linguistic tricks have long been favored by writers, who have inserted secret acrostics or composed books without using common letters. In the first chapter of this book the importance places upon the trick is evident and raises the valid concern that the work will be nothing more than a cry for attention. Or, put another way…
An apparent, appalling advertising avenue; an adscititious African annal.
Every new chapter introduces a new letter for word beginnings, shifting the book from only using “a” in chapter one to a normal work by chapter twenty-six… and then, as if the author needed to drive his point home, the book starts removing letters in reverse order until the next-to-last chapter again restricts the author to using only “b” and “a” words and the final chapter returning to the singular use of “a”.
If you want to have a strange book on your shelf, it’s been reprinted many times and is currently available on Amazon. Whether it was purely a cash grab or a dubious attempt at art is a matter for debate; I simply know that it could be described in any chapter of the book in the same way: annoying.
Question of the night: what’s a popular (generally, or with a subculture) book or movie that you’ve never found appealing?