Review by Curtis Cole
Culture creates a kind of myth. It is the myth of narrative; that we are in control of our futures and can determine their outcomes. Tiffany Tsao’s Oddfits, however, makes short work of this myth by her presentation of alienation and the accompanying escape fantasy. Colluding narratology and philosophy in a sort of existential framework, Tsao’s first installment of her ‘Oddfit’ series, makes a stunning impact on the Indie scene, the net result, of which, is a ‘raising of the bar.’
The story is a simple one: protagonist Murgatroyd Floyd is an ‘Oddfit,’ or, a person possessing the ability to see and freely traverse the ‘More Known World,’ an expansion of reality—which is in turn called the ‘Known World’—which holds a vast, potentially infinite, expanse of wonders connected to the ‘Known World.’ One day, he is told of his dormant abilities and is solicited to join an organization known as ‘The Quest,’ an international organization dedicated to the exploration and understanding of the More Known World. Since only Oddfits can endure the mysterious toll taken when transporting themselves between each expanse, each member, in turn, is an Oddfit, and so they are constantly in search of fellow Oddfits to tempt into leaving their old life behind and help them uncover the secrets of the universe; since life for Oddfits living in the Known World tends to be comprised of social awkwardness, depression, and loneliness, many jump at the chance to leave their life behind in exchange for an adventure filled life of exotic wonder. Muragatroyd, however, is hesitant to leave his life behind, despite his parents, best friend, and employer’s less than amazing track record when it comes to treatment. Hence the plot of Tsao’s book: that of our young, socially naïve main character coming to grips with his life and deciding on that major life change.
The story is rife with postmodern subversions which function as a commentary on the condition of ‘the novel.’ Many archetypes are altered and so bring a sort of wittily sarcastic flare to well-known tropes; to name a few: the protagonist and the sidekick are reversed; the main character is fairly ineffectual and ignorant on his surroundings, whereas his best friend sidekick, is more of the typical ‘Hero’ material, athletic, intelligent, and well versed in a variety of fields and subjects as he is; ‘the antagonist(s),’ meanwhile, unconventionally finds roles within both the petty-bourgeoisie and the nuclear family; all while the premise of escape from social ills and alienation becomes transmogrified as an archeological discovery of knowledge (in the sense of Michel Foucault’s understanding of the process). Every subversion brings something new the literary table and is a pleasure to read, as Tsao’s style is ripe with flavor and description without the sour aftertaste of ‘trying too hard’ which frequents many attempts in the Indie scene.
Each subversion is presented stunningly poetic prose. Not poetic as ‘flowing’ with rhyme and significance, ‘poetic’ as in ‘inter-related.’ Each character operates in (ignorant) conjunction with another, ultimately colliding within the narrative web to produce the drive which pushes the protagonist to make his decision as to whether he should go on his Quest or remain home with his family. Tsao’s writing is interesting and powerful; filled as it is with an understanding of history and culture, she manages to evoke a torrent of empathy for how alienation effects the working class, and how the need to escape from oppression becomes irreducibly linked to the base of the oppression itself. Tsao’s writing is rarely burdensome, only at select points becoming moored in details. Presenting a stylistic at ease with a character’s existential interior, Tsao successfully conveys the complexity of modernity as it clashes with the materiality of that person’s environment, and how irrationality serves as the prime mover in contemporary life; or, said another way, how ‘who we are’ and ‘what we want’ rarely coincides with what we are able to control, thus stripping (philosophical) existentialism of some of its reactionary pretenses. As a result, what is seen is a deeply empathetic book; Tsao’s sensitivity for the social underdog is felt and is resonant with anyone struggling on the fringes of sociality.
Of course, readers should be aware of that though a piece of fantasy, it is very Realist in its orientation. This is why I say it is almost existential, because, in truth, the More Known World is only seen a handful of times in the text. Instead, most of the book takes place in the normal Known World, and focuses on the interpersonal dilemmas the protagonist faces in making a decision on if he should join the Quest, as well as the paths which those characters have taken which caused them to arrive at their point of departure. So this is to say that Oddfits is hardly a power-fantasy. Although some may quip that the author should have dwelt longer on the More Known World, and had regulated the Known World scenes into the background, this would be missing the point of the plot, that of a portrait of self-discovery.
So in the end, I cannot recommend Oddfits enough. It has wit, bits of humor, and a moving story; with extremely satisfying character development and pacing alongside a well-realized world that manages to fascinate, fans of Realist fantasy will find a delight in this well-written gem.
The Oddfits (The Oddfits Series Book 1)
248 pages. Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle. $5.99 (Kindle), $9.70 (Paperback), $7.34 (Audible audiobook). 2016.