Review: Ohmhole, by Tyler Hayden

>>Published: November 2011

>>Finally got around to it: January 2012

His eyes tightened up with the fat of violence. “They contain the uncells that cure the world’s most deadly diseases, notably HIV and cancer,” he mumbled. “They are all young. I engineered them myself and they are more beneficial than any treatment approved by the medical profession since it no longer exists. You remember the death of that stray dog? I killed him in a fit of joy after discovering the cure for HIV that I engineered actually works. If that cure were once introduced into North America, it would spread so rapidly that in eight to ten business days, the continent would be repopulated.”

“I’m stupid. I don’t understand what you mean by cures. How is it possible for a man to invent a cure?”

“I keep forgetting you’re stupid. Lie down on the floor,”—he sat down on the toilet and I stretched out on the bathroom floor,—“Certain cures are produced by certain cells or uncells that have had their DNA tinkered with by certain bioengineers who reprogram the information within them to turn them into organic machines to hunt down the diseases. Reverse engineering is easier than actual.”

***

I’m the first to admit that I do in fact judge books by their covers. More often than not, my fine arts-oriented brain is drawn to an unknown title sporting a very pretty jacket. So let’s shake things up a bit and start with that: design wise, Tyler Hayden’s Ohmhole is a beautiful book. Simple, minimalist aesthetics go a long way with me. The second positive mark on the list: genuinely intriguing cover copy. A dystopian future where the populace lies dying of AIDS, and the only rumoured cure is believed to be exchanged through our bodily fluids? Definitely atypical of your average governmental/corporation-controlled authoritarian future speculative work.

However, despite my strong initial intrigue, I find myself fighting for the words to describe Ohmhole. Curious? Absolutely. Ambitious. Unrestrained.

Unfortunately, I would also describe it as needlessly abrasive, immature, vulgar, and lacking an emotional core.

If pressed for an A meets B reduction of the narrative, I’d classify Ohmhole as Peter Darbyshire and Douglas Coupland meets Daniel Allen Cox and Tao Lin, minus any sort of attention to character or the construction of a coherent narrative: society run selfishly amuck through a disaffected, repetitive, come-soaked fuckscape. Ohmhole feels hamstrung by its dystopian influences, but lacks the creativity, imagery, and emotional pull of others who’ve travelled a similar ideological path. Instead of an original examination of the themes outlined in the book’s synopsis, we’re treated to an Idiocracy-like approach to sexual terminology, beaten to death through aggravating, white noise-like repetition of language and action. What results is something altogether inane that borders on infantile—Hayden wields sexuality as if he were a child discovering curse words for the first time, overusing them to ineffectiveness.

My criticisms are largely technical: Hayden’s language did nothing to paint this world as anything more than a simplistic—though potentially controversial—two-dimensional conceit. Though I suspect there are much larger ideas at stake in this work—issues to do with the prevalence of sexual criticism; the nature of unnecessary criticism towards an individual’s rights to sex, sexuality and privacy; and the need, in such matters, for social and governmental responsibility without oppression—they are buried beneath a shock-for-shock’s sake treatment of language that left me with little desire to unearth his ultimate intent.

While there is likely academic or educational merit to dissecting Hayden’s work, as a novel Ohmhole fails to inspire further conversation. Instead, the book’s exciting premise is sadly extinguished by its overcooked and ineffective technique, and obsessively high school-level diction.

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