Marc Anthony Richardson has found a way to describe in words the inability to understand other people—he uses dense prose that circles on itself and leaps from present to flashback, depicting a muddled mind at work

Year of the Rat
Marc Anthony Richardson, Year of the Rat, Fiction Collective 2, 2016.
excerpt
read it at Google Books
www.marcanthonyrichardson.com/


Winner of the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
In Year of the Rat, an artist returns to the dystopian city of his birth to tend to his invalid mother only to find himself torn apart by memories and longings. Narrated by this nameless figure whose rants, reveries, and Rabelaisian escapades take him on a Dantesque descent into himself, the story follows him and his mother as they share a one-bedroom apartment over the course of a year.
Despite his mother’s precarious health, the lingering memories of a lost love, an incarcerated sibling, a repressed sexuality, and an anarchic inability to support himself, he pursues his dream of becoming an avant-garde artist. His prospects grow dim until a devastating death provides a painful and unforeseeable opportunity. With a voice that is poetic and profane, ethereal and irreverent, cyclical and succinct, he roams from vignette to vignette, creating a polyphonic patchwork quilt of a family portrait.

Two hundred and some-odd pages of… something.
This debut novel by Philadelphia-based writer and artist Richardson won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest for 2015, for what it’s worth. For mainstream readers, it will be virtually unreadable. Written in some sort of flash fiction/automatic writing style, the book is essentially one long rant punctuated by untranslated Latin phrases, footnotes nodding to sources ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Bible, and the occasional reproduction of an abstract painting. Technically, there’s a plot: a 35-year-old artist returns to the city of his birth to care for his ailing mother. “Sick women live forever,” he bemoans. Other than those basics, the book is violently difficult to parse. Early on, our nameless narrator spits on a little girl. “I forget her name: a name is nothing more than a cage. She is the archetype stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, an ungodly urban ugliness and a tumultuous racial myth: black sloth.” Later, musings on art: “Squinting is god. It negates detail and yet proposes it. It reduces everything to simple geometric shapes, the building blocks of a good drawing, revealing only the foundation the very thing that makes a thing what it is.” Still later, the protective son: “I want to shield you the way I want to shield the virginity of my mother who has not yet consummated her marriage to death, for whenever I imagine her without her fold-up shopping cart, waddling up walks and wheezing with quadpod canes and walkers, with pocket books and packages and plastic grocery sacks, her body, when she tries to do anything for herself I tell her she’s going to fall.” The book is certainly unique in voice and style, but it’s also frightening, ugly, dense, and borderline offensive. Even the most challenging of transgressive writers pales in comparison with the aimless rambling at work here.
Technically a novel, it will make all but the most experimental of readers throw it across a room. -
Kirkus Reviews

The unnamed narrator of Richardson's first novel returns to his unspecified home city to live with and care for an ailing mother in a cramped apartment. Over the course of a year, readers watch him navigate a return to his own history. The narrator's older brother is obsessed with status and religion and his younger brother is in jail; he himself is a failing artist and an alcoholic, and possibly has other mental health issues. Like Gogol's Poprishchin, the narrator is combative, racist, judgmental, self-hating, misogynistic, and overtly sexual. He makes decisions based on a code that is difficult to understand. Richardson has found a way to describe in words the inability to understand other people—he uses dense prose that circles on itself and leaps from present to flashback, depicting a muddled mind at work. Richardson effortlessly weaves quotes from a wealth of other texts into his work, creating in his narrator a sort of human callback to Western culture, or an embodiment of Ezra Pound's Cantos. The novel is certainly challenging, but once readers enter the story it's easy to be swept into its stormy momentum, and to acknowledge the very promising start of the author's career.
- Publishers Weekly

“Trust me, you've never read anything like Marc Anthony Richardson's Year of the Rat, and you must stop everything you're doing right now and make time for it. Gorgeous, unsparing, heartbreaking, the book is a prose poem of a testament to motherhood, to manhood, to lost generations, to hope itself."
Cristina García

"In language that is at times phantasmagoric, at times ribald, and always beautiful, Marc Anthony Richardson's debut novel astounds. Bold, provocative, and ambitious: we have a new, indispensable voice in American letters."—Micheline Aharonian Marcom


“Here is the debut of a breathtaking talent, a writer of relentless intelligence and vision. Marc Anthony Richardson’s writing is at once ecstatic and gritty, fierce and tender, gorgeous and as potent as a bomb.” —Carolina De Robertis

“As word-drunk as Joyce, as sharp-eyed as Ellison, Richardson has a mesmerizing voice that grabs you by the ears and won’t let go. This poignant tale of a young man’s devotion to his family while he struggles to succeed in a surreal art world introduces Richardson as an important new voice.” — Cornelia Nixon

"Haunted by the sign (maria) of the moon, Marc Anthony Richardson's remarkable and necessary debut, Year of the Rat, is an abject linguistic entity scrabbling through a complex underworld of love and disgust—a world of damaged, systematically marginalized black bodies from which Richardson's narrator continuously rises, bringing news, rage, and redemption in beauty and the irresistible connections of family."—Michael Mejia

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