Claro's novel has captured in language what Houdini must have experienced, the panic and thrill of both confinement and escape: carnival mist

Claro, Electric Flesh, Trans. by Brian Evenson (Soft Skull Press, 2006)

"Howard Hordinary is convinced that he’s the bastard grandchild of Harry Houdini. An unemployed executioner with a fetish for electric chairs, Howard is tormented by multiple perversities and obsessed with schemes to restore his status as executioner and as Houdini’s legitimate heir. Cycling back and forth between Hordinary's paranoid present and Houdini’s fantastical past — teeming with freaks, carnies, scientists, con men, lunatics, and Houdini’s own obsessions — Electric Flesh is a sizzling blend of fact and fiction, penned by an exciting new voice in American fiction."

"Claro is a verbal power station who'll light up your brain the way he lights up the page. It was for tour de force performances such as Electric Flesh that God created language and the Devil created style." —Tom Robbins

"Claro's Electric Flesh is frighteningly smart. Claro's novel has captured in language what Houdini must have experienced, the panic and thrill of both confinement and escape. I was trapped by this work from the onset and I'm not free yet. Many thanks to Mr. Evenson for this translation." —Percival Everett

"This is an astonishing piece of delirious, supercharged prose. It makes one think of Pynchon, of Joyce, of various kinds of Fear and Loathing. It's a short, intense burst of high linguistic voltage, and the translation is simply outstanding. There's nothing much like the zing and heat of Electric Flesh in these cautious, undercooked times." —Salman Rushdie

"Excessive, extreme, obscene, Claro's vision of an immoral application of electricity is beautifully strange and unsettling." — Ben Marcus

"From the beginning, in 1881, when an unemployed laborer, on a bet, attempts to copulate with an electricty generator, to the end, when an unemployed executioner who specialized in electric chairs fantasizes about electrically-enhanced sex with a prostitute, Electric Flesh runs an alternating current of language through the body of America.
The central protagonist of Electric Flesh, however, is Harry Houdini, both as the historical figure himself, and as an idea�specifically Howard Hordinary's conviction that he is the bastard grandchild of a rumored liaison between Houdini and Charmain London (Jack London's wife). Howard, tormented by multiple perversities�particularly sex and electricity�his unemployment and powerlessness, schemes to restore his status (as executionar, as Houdini grandchild). Cycling back and forth between Hordinary's present, and the fantastical Houdini past, populated by freaks, carnies, scientists, con men, lunatics. Momentarily confined by cages and straitjackets, Houdini ranges all over the world and, much has Hordinary is obsessed with Houdini, Houdini in turn is obsessed with *SZUSZU*, the enigmatic "Electric Girl," with whom he shared billing early in his career.
Combining the compressed violence of a Dennis Cooper novel, with the paranoid historical sweep of Pynchon and Vollman, and the linguistic experiments of Ben Marcus, Brian Evenson, and Matthew Derby, Claro is very much an American writer who will finally be discovered by his true audience."

"Electric Flesh is wired, cover to cover. The sparks fly from the beginning, and Claro does an impressive (if taxing) job of keeping the voltage up.
There are several storylines and obsessions in the novel. Much is centred around the early days of electricity, with Edison and others still figuring out all the potential of this newly harnessed discovery. Central to the book: the efforts to perfect the electric chair -- though the theme of current running through characters more generally runs throughout the book. Electric Flesh is also a Houdini-novel, as the great magician toys with electricity too (among much else) -- and has his own obsession, an 'Electric Girl' billed as *SZUSZU*. Then, in the (near) present-day, there's Howard Hordinary, convinced that either "his ghostly granny is none other than Charmian London, Jack London's wife with whom Houdini fooled around" -- or that he's *SZUSZU*'s grandchild by Houdini.
Howard is also electric-chair obsessed (and is a professional executioner -- though down on his luck since Pennsylvania has just switched to lethal injection). But it's the obsession of all the characters, a variation on the theme that Claro does well but can also be wearing (despite the jolts it offers).
Electric Flesh is full of charged episodes and writing -- amazingly lively and clever stuff at times (ably rendered into English by Brian Evenson). A good if not always comfortable read, in which much of the pleasure comes from the creative writing." - The Complete Review

"Three story lines fuse and ignite in this brief novel by the French metafiction master who publishes under a single name (which means "clear," "bright" or "fine" in Spanish). As a child, the real-life Harry Houdini develops a crush on Szuszu, a magician's assistant, whom he eventually pursues-along with the craft that pushes his body to its limits-through a sideshow of carnival freaks. Simultaneously, Thomas Edison directs an army of assistants while attempting to invent the electric chair, conducting gruesome experiments with animals, criminals and high voltage frying. In a modern story set in 1996, an unemployed executioner, Howard Hordinary, masturbates and dreams about Houdini's feats, eventually hoping to prove that he, like Gary Gilmore, is the unacknowledged grandson of the great escape artist, the fruit perhaps of Houdini's liaison with Szuszu. Accomplished U.S. novelist Evenson turns syntax inside out attempting to translate Claro's French whirls and dips into an inventive English, but Hordinary's need to connect with Houdini seems little more than a device to bring the history of electricity closer to a century of terror and torture." - Publishers Weekly

"Sometimes life truly is stranger than fiction. As I sat down to draft a review of French author Claro’s eccentric, over-the-top prose poem-like novella Electric Flesh—a fiction that cleverly incorporates the histories of Thomas Alva Edison (otherwise referred to as “Godhison” in the text), inventor of—and none-too-reluctant champion of—the electric chair, and that of escape artist Harry Houdini—I came across an article entitled “Will Houdini Be There? Remains To Be Seen” in The Guardian Online. A sense of Freudian unheimlich gripping my excitable guts as I read that the remains of the magician-cum-escape artist are to be exhumed, with the approval of his great nephew George Hardeen (also a magician) and family, in order to be autopsied for any traces of poisoning, which, if found, would effectively debunk the accepted version of Houdini’s death contending that he died of a burst appendix after being punched backstage by two over-zealous “fans.” In fact, if he was poisoned, the article implicitly suggests, it would strongly indicate a conspiracy planned by a group referred to as “the spiritualists,” of which Arthur Conan Doyle, known primarily for his Conan The Barbarian series, was a member, and who, further, had made some incriminating remarks two years prior to Houdini’s untimely death, not-so-subtly suggesting that Houdini would not be very long for this world. In any case, while Claro’s clever conceit does not delve into Houdini’s involvement with the spiritualists, or with the “spirit world,” it does, in one heated scene, reenact Harry Houdini’s final moments as seen/told through the warped lens of its protagonist Harry Hordinary’s electrif[r]ied mind.
Claro’s peculiar protagonist Harry Hordinary (“HH”) is an out-of-work executioner who prefers electrocuting criminals until crisp to seeing them hang or be granted a healthy dose of lethal injection, for his home state of Pennsylvania has—unfortunately for him—ruled the latter to be more humane than electrocution. “Harry” has borrowed his name, and quite literally his sense of identity/identification, from the great Houdini, who himself changed his given name (and his place of birth) from Erich Weisz/Weiss many times over the course of his young life to various variants thereof, until finally hitting upon his [in]famous moniker: “Harry Houdini.” Hordinary has crazily convinced himself that he is the illegitimate grandchild of the contortionist-magician Houdini and Jack London’s wife, with whom the former had apparently “fooled around,” and he (Hordinary) decidedly views the world through the eyes of this chosen idol, combined with those of a pleasure-seeking sadomasochist worthy of a William Burroughs character addicted to alternating electrical current (AC) instead of “junk.” Add to HH’s vastly-distorted inner dialogue Houdini’s supposed search for the enigmatic *SZUSZU*, the “electric girl,” with whom Houdini supposedly worked at some early point in his career (as “evidenced” by an obviously spurious autographed photo featuring the rigged up dame and a baboon-masked figure in the background that Hordinary believes to be Houdini), and you have a very strange story indeed.
The slim book, which can be read in a single, concentrated sitting (though you’ll probably want to read it twice for the deliciously dense details), opens with a terrifying, and literally shocking, scene in 1881—nine years before ax-murderer William Kemmler will be the first to fry on Edison’s nascent electric chair, which decidedly incorporates his rival Westinghouse’s “Alternating Current” technology—wherein a man named George Smith “couples” with an electric generator and is incinerated, igniting a series of reports and recommendations to a committee spearheaded by the sadistic dentist Alfred Porter Southwick and including Elbridge T. Gerry (ironically one of the founding members of the “American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Children”) to employ electrical current for human executions in lieu of hanging. These recommendations lead to the eventual development by Edison of the “Godhison” electric chair, which is first vigorously tested on various animals (“dogs, cats, horses, elephants…”) to positively sickening results. (The interested reader may wish to consult Jill Jonnes’s fascinating study Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World (published by Random House), Chapters 7 and 8, for a more thorough and objective, yet equally gruesome, account.) Man and monkey are given equal status by the author/narrator of this smoldering yarn—equal lowly status, that is—for, is it not true that either will sizzle the same way when roasted on the chair? and is it not also true that, when it comes right down to it, the former has evolved (if we subscribe to Darwin’s theories) from the latter? But, the question sine qua non that is implied here is: How far has man really evolved? What separates us from other animals? The book’s grim conclusion would appear to be nada, aside from our perverse propensity to create horrid technological beasts such as the electric chair for our own ends; i.e. as instruments of control (political, economic, and so on) and torture.
Besides the artful blending of fact/fiction, the quirky dark humor, the visceral imagery, and the entertaining—albeit intentionally-skewed—storyline, one of the most striking and enjoyable aspects for some imbibers will be the verbal and visual-layout pyrotechnics, courtesy of translator Brian Evenson’s stunning translation/interpretation of the French. Salman Rushdie has compared Claro’s prosaic universe to that of Pynchon and Joyce, and it is not difficult to see why. Words leap off the page in delightful swooning, rushing, flowing blocks of eloquently-electrified text, sentences run to the point of almost-bursting before coming to a full stop, reveling in their clause-cluttered-complexity, never afraid to shout Hey, are you listening? from time to time, or to incorporate innovative visual techniques (read it and see what I mean) in order to call attention to themselves and/or their subject matter. While some initiates to Claro’s warped world will find this playful wordsmithing eminently satisfying (not to mention downright fun), others will inevitably find it to be somewhat cumbersome, teeth-grittingly opaque, if not totally impenetrable (though this text is a cakewalk next to Finnegans Wake!). Regardless of the challenge posed to some, I contend that once one enters the dizzying stream of Claro and Evenson’s words, hooks up and in to the sizzling-hot current upon which the text propels itself and its found audience to horrific heights of ectoplasmic ecstasy, as with the great Houdini himself (“three seconds, two seconds…”) there’s simply no turning back." - Marc Lowe

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