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Crash Happy

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Crash Happy Essay, Research Paper

Crash happyBlackboxby Nick Walker311pp, ReviewWe now live in a country with far too many chefs and comedians, too many of whom feel obliged to produce novels. Nick Walker seems at first to be doing himself few favours by adding himself to the list with an experimental novel featuring a character named Unfunny John, stand-up comic. John is so desperately unfunny that he can alienate any audience, which is the point, because he then has his revenge by blowing his brains all over the stage. His wife, so an informative index tells us, is a morgue attendant.Blackbox could have been annoying and irritating in obvious ways, but is transformed by its radical take. Sleight-of-hand, which fascinates Walker, is applied to his own material. His preoccupations overlap with those of Chris Morris – a deadpan, mordant curiosity, fascination with modern-day taboos, humour as an extension of terror and fear, to a point where something stops being funny and becomes interesting – and J G Ballard.Blackbox inhabits a Ballardian landscape of airport terminals, air disasters, radio phone-ins, lists, black-box recordings, terrorism and psychotherapy sessions, and has a cast to match – pilots, self-help therapists (some bogus), voiceover actors, ex-government agents, air-traffic controllers, air-crash investigators, stewardesses – all traumatised by the sort of real or imagined anxieties that are the product of this high-pressure world. References to RD Laing, Lacan and Ulrike Meinhof further stake out Walker’s intellectual territory.The narrative owes little to conventional unfolding, opting instead for a countdown of 840 scenes, some only a line or a word or two. They are not all by any means memorable, and the same can be said for the characters, who achieve their most solid form in the book’s index.Walker’s approach both demonstrates and refutes coincidence, and creates a jigsaw of past, memory, present and near-future projections invariably involving fatalities. It is a world in which the black-box recording becomes the ultimate act of eavesdropping, of simultaneous violation and sanctity. Walker sets out his stall early with a reference to Stanley Milgram’s famous social experiment of the 1960s which suggested that any of us is only six degrees of separation away from anyone else.Whether you can get a stand-up novel out of Walker’s approach is debatable, but he offers other compensations, including an active imagination and wild morbidity, a sense of Ballardian mythology and wonder (stowaway passengers falling Icarus-like through the sky), and prose of pared distinction.· Chris Petit’s most recent novel is The Human Pool (Scribner)

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