The Tumours Made Me Interesting, by Matthew Revert. Australia: Legumeman Books, 2011.
I’ve been a big fan of Revert since his scrotum-filled short story collection A Million Versions of Right came out in 2009. Labeled a “Bizarro” writer alongside such luminaries as Carlton Mellick III and D. Harlan Wilson, among others, Revert’s work is strange, grotesque, deeply symbolic, and hilarious. But I’m not doing it justice. There’s a saying that ‘one has to know the rules to break the rule,’ and Revert knows them well and breaks them beautifully.
The Tumours Made Me Interesting is at once parody but also strangely sincere. If life is a joke, Revert is laughing the loudest, and why not? The story follows Bruce Miles, a milquetoast who works for Nipple Blamers, a company that “makes its profit by abusing a legal loophole that allows the blame for certain criminal charges to be transferred to nipples” (26). When he was 12, a falcon carried away his father. His mother is slowly turning into a giant hand. And he is nothing. But Bruce achieves a kind of fame when he contracts cancer and begins to be pursued by a group of disease-fetishists who promise to take care of his mother if only he will let them do as they will with him.
There are many layers of humor in this onion of a novel, from the doctor who first examines Bruce exclaiming, “Yuck!” and “This is some sick shit!” as he performs a colonoscopy, to Bruce’s coworkers chipping in and getting him some bark as a condolence, to start off with. But isn’t there a kind of truth to these moments? Mustn’t a doctor actually think, at some point, that it is ‘some sick shit’ to stick his hand up somebody’s rectum and feel around? And wouldn’t any gifts sent by coworkers in this situation be about as useful as a bouquet of bark? Revert is getting at something in the absurdity of life, here. But he doesn’t take himself seriously enough to do more than poke fun at the whole idea of “meaning.”
And yet, Revert manages to be oddly touching at certain moments. Bruce’s relationship with his mother, for example, which is really the biggest part of his life, is touching, at times, and manages to feel real despite (or maybe because of) its absurdity. Later, as Bruce begins to understand his cancer and communicate with it, the cancer tumors become some of the more likeable characters in the book, saving him from jams at several points. Bruce’s motivations are clearly spelled out; he’s a believable and understandable character who exists in a crazy world, as are we all.
Revert comments on pop culture ruthlessly. After he’s diagnosed with cancer, Bruce goes out to a bar with a coworker whose waitresses are forced to wear tents in order to be trendy. The drinks served, also, include fermented bacon. Of course, the cancer admirers who ‘make Bruce interesting’ are really not so far removed from some of today’s reality TV fans.
But these are all just elements of the story, and it’s obvious that Revert’s true intention here is to simply tell an entertaining story, weird as it may be. He’s a talented writer who crafts pleasing lines just as easily as he crafts surreal imagery. He balances gross-out images with humor to make a very pleasing story. Revert’s debut rivals the masters of the genre, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.