The Misadventure of an ‘Oddfit’ (Book Review)

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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)

Tiffany Tsao

248 pages. Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle. $5.99 (Kindle), $9.70 (Paperback), $7.34 (Audible audiobook). 2016.

 

A Week of Discussing Adaptation and Intertextuality

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The English Department was busy with related events this week, starting the week off on Monday with an event in Lincoln Auditorium called “Roundtable Discussion of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and on Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Misty Krueger’s lecture on “The Products of Intertextuality: The Value of Student Adaptations in a Literature Course.”

The Monday discussion was a great introduction to the theory of intertextuality and different forms of adaptation and how they function in the modern world. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, written by Seth Grahame-Smith, started as a fictional book adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. This genre “mash-up”, as it’s been referred to, is a combination of Austen’s written word and Grahame-Smith’s added zombie and kung-fu elements to make the classical story plot very different than before.

The book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was then adapted into graphic novel form, and then into a Hollywood production, which twisted the book’s plot further into a new story and script altogether. In the roundtable discussion, there was a wide variety of opinion on the film in general: What kind of film is this? Is it absurdity, or brilliant re-creation? What would Jane Austen herself think? Some thought the beauty of the entire theme in the novel was nonexistent with the addition of the zombie plot, but others thought the reimagination of P&P was simply modernizing the story to appeal to a new generation.

It was also discussed how much the film, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies borrows from other cinematic productions. The film had elements of other zombie films, notably The Land of the Dead which the character “Big Daddy” had similarities to Willoughby’s zombie character. We discussed the presence of martial arts and other Eastern references, which was much stronger in the book, but still present in the film. P&P&Z also borrowed from other P&P cinematic productions; the mini series in (1995) and film (2005). The film is adapting, first and foremost, Austen’s words, but also Grahame-Smith’s words, other cinematic productions, zombie films, and kung-fu: it’s a cornucopia of pastiche!

Overall, we decided that it’s difficult to label this adaption as being successful or unsuccessful, good or bad, because of the variation in opinion of the “fidelity” of Austen’s hypertext. Many argue that adaptation is open to anyone to re-create, but some believe crossing that line is criminal. This discussion only started the week’s theme of intertextuality and previewed Dr. Krueger’s lecture on her own experience and study in the area of adaptation.

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On Wednesday, UMF English Professor Dr. Misty Krueger presented her recent research on works of 17th-19th century adaptation and the creations of the ENG 377 Adaptation class she taught two years ago at UMF.

This was a class that I was a part of (I’m far left in the photo) and was able to contribute to. Other students who were able to come back for the event after graduating included Angelisa Beane, Amelia Coburn, Caleb Rea (who gave an excellent introduction of Dr. Misty Krueger), Alison Hutchins, Elizabeth Ferry, and Eric Barry.

Professor Krueger shared a presentation of the class’ objective and described the collective process of reading and analyzing Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, and then reading the adaptation, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, a mash-up novel very similar to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Ben. H Winters. We followed suit with Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Henry Fielding’s Shamela, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Dean Koontz’s graphic novel Frankenstein: Prodigal Son. All of these texts and their adaptations inspired the class to create adaptation of their own in many mixed medias.

In Krueger’s analysis, she explained her research on the bounds of adaptation in her academic journal article saying, “A pedagogy of adaptation can and should include fan fiction in its framework. A cousin to adaptation, fan fic certainly is a part of 17th- to 19th-century literary history, and scholars have labeled some of the texts I taught in my course, such as Shamela, as fan fic.” The point of adaptation is crossing those boundaries and taking liberties with the original text. Fan fiction was a significant part of the class’ creations and is a mode of adaptation that can be taken very seriously.

In Krueger’s concluding thoughts of her article, and in her presentation, she remarked: “While readers and viewers often focus on what adaptations do to “original” texts, we should consider what they can do for these works. ‘Rather than being displaced by the adaptation,’ Hutcheon reminds us, the adapted literary text ‘gets a new life’ (Hutcheon 2007; see also Gilroy 2010).” It was great that in our class we were able to create a small, academic, and creative space to expand on these ideas, and in that environment we created adaptations of all medias and intertextuality. Two of the videos created in this class by Tyler Michaud and Alison Hutchins are able to be viewed below: Enjoy!