Corey's Travel Stories

My Own Devices

By Noel Rieder

A review of My Own Devices by Corey Frost

Published on April 1, 2003

My Own Devices
Corey Frost

Conundrum Press
$14.95
paper
162pp
0-9689496-5-7

For lack of a better definition, postmodernism is what happens when artists decide to let the audience in on the secrets of their craft. Like any striptease, however, the results can be wildly unpredictable. Bad postmodern fiction tends to read like a gimmicky collegiate word puzzle. The good stuff draws readers into its fictional world while forcing them to reflect on the tractor beam that pulls.

Corey Frost is certainly aware of this. His new collection of postmodern fiction remains highly readable while humorously poking and popping literary conventions. My Own Devices isn’t gimmick-free, but Frost wisely keeps his literary devices playful and gets most of them out of the way quickly.

Frost opens the collection with a silly yet curiously profound analysis of his own name. Readers will associate him with lame-o ’80s film stars Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, he suspects, and perhaps Corey Hart as well. Will the ’80s-style “immodest optimism” of his name affect the way readers interpret his book? Frost follows this up with an odd “quote quiz” meant to make a similar point. “Jean-François is stymied!” the caption reads, complete with a picture of a flummoxed French sailor. “He knows that one of the quotes below is the right epigraph for this book, but he doesn’t know which one!” Frost asks readers to choose from among three baffling epigraphs, again suggesting readers will ultimately be responsible for determining the meaning, if any, of the text that follows.

Once the academic monkey business is done with, Frost gets down to demonstrating that he is a writer to watch, both for his refined sense of story development and for the sheer oddness of his literary imagination. The author himself is the main character in this collection of stories set in various exotic locales. Frost, as he envisions himself, is beset by all the pains known to the self-conscious modern traveller. Existential breakdowns send him into paroxysms of hopelessness, and he comes into contact with some of the most devastating intestinal bugs yet imagined in literature.

While My Own Devices could be seen as a travel book, it is still anti-travel in every sense. Frost may be on the move, but the greatest distance he covers is in the analytical junglescape of his mind. Frost is an analytical writer somewhat in the way Beckett or Gogol were, minutely dissecting everyday occurences until they take on a far more surreal and expansive quality. “Blood and Gasoline” is an excellent example. Frost notices that those involved in car crashes always “create in their minds a new crash, an ideal crash,” and wonders if it’s possible to envision an ontologically perfect car crash. He gives readers the answer in the following pages by describing three highly detailed crashes he has not been in.

Here we have a subtler version of postmodernism. Frost is giving the reader a brief lesson in the esoteric art of imagining a fictional car crash, going so far as to dissect the reasoning process the writer goes through in its composition. In “Gulliver’s Travels,” Frost turns his attention to narrative perspective, investigating how it skews the reader’s experience of the story being told. Most of the story takes place in a South American jungle; Frost is crouching for lack of a real bathroom, expelling the contents of his bowels in painful spasms. Through this oddest of perspectives, the reader watches along with Frost as a girl is accosted and arrested by police.

With My Own Devices, Frost demonstrates he has true ability and a fine understanding of the subtle mechanics of literature. If he can just let go of his academic pretentions, he may end up doing something remarkable. mRb

Noel Rieder is a Montreal writer.

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