Antkind

AntkindDonald Trump goes to Florida Disneyworld to inspect the animatronic figure the Imagineers make for the Hall of Presidents attraction. He’s so impressed he orders them to make another for his personal amusement, and he feels so close to it they end up sleeping together, all while he protests he’s not gay.

And that’s not even the weirdest idea in screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s novel.

Self-absorbed and neurotic film critic B Rosenberg sees the magnus opus of an aged African American film director neighbour – a stop motion animated film made entirely with puppets that took him 90 years to produce and runs for three months.

By the time Rosenberg finishes it, shaken to the core by the artistic brilliance of the project, the director has died, so resolves to champion it to the world. But when he parks the truck carrying the reels in a highway fast food rest stop and it catches alight, everything is lost but a single frame. He then sets about engaging a hypnotist to extract the memory of the entire film from his latent mind so he can reconstruct it.

That setup comprises the first 100 pages of this 700 page book. To say it goes in some strange directions and contains some strange asides and motifs is like saying Quentin Tarantino’s film have a little bit of swearing.

There’s the story within a story of the 20s-era comedians who appear to be one of the subjects of the lost film. Something about travelling Vaudevillian performers finding a gigantic man hidden in a barn that has a huge hole hundreds of feet deep. Rapturous praise of Judd Apatow but critical bile for that smug screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

It ends millions of years in the future where an intelligent and fully sentient ant seems to be remembering the life lived by the protagonist in strange parallels, while robot Trumps who can shoot lasers out of their eyes and the descendants of a girl who built an empire digging up relics and supplies left to her by a character apparently in the lost film fight their war in a cave after the rest of civilisation has burned to the ground… I think.

Considering where it started, the gradual increase in surrealism is quite a feat. So it’s a minor miracle that (despite being about so much that seems barely connected and using prose that immediately reminds you of a million books you’ve put down for being too clever for their own good) it holds your attention until the end.

That goes doubly so because Kaufman isn’t terribly interested in mere plot. Instead Antkind is a creative fever dream with no Hollywood producer making it more digestible for a screen audience.

It also holds your attention because somewhere in there the threads, motifs and callbacks ultimately connect, even if your mind whirls to remember where all the threads began. Kaufman either threw every idea he had at the wall and relied on happy accidents or Antkind is the most brilliantly constructed creative artefact in modern publishing we’ll never fully appreciate without six months of rereading and a huge whiteboard.

Perhaps most surprising of all, it’s often genuinely laugh-out loud funny. Not everyone will respond to the way Kaufman’s mind works and the way he expresses himself, but you might just find yourself on board and swept long despite your suspicions.