Performing the Monster

A Review of Ian Rogers’ Temporary Monsters (Burning Effigy Press, Toronto: 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Peterborough author Ian Rogers’ Temporary Monsters is a novella about illusion and performance, the insubstantiality of life and the performativity of everyday existence.  Rogers sets his story of monstrosity amongst a performative group of people, actors and actresses, who need to be ‘on’ while on-screen and while off-screen. Every moment of the life of an actor is under public scrutiny, publically examined, and career-influencing, so fame brings with it a need to be constantly in the act of performance turning the world into a stage in which they perform their lives.

Many of the actors in Temporary Monsters take drugs to supplement their performance, remaking themselves for their audience and indulging in their own escapes from reality into a self-indulgent created reality of the mind – a performance of the psyche.

There is a performative quality to the monsters of this novella as Rogers’ protagonist detective Felix Renn discovers when the monsters he encounters begin reverting to humanity, only temporarily taking on the guise of the more-than-human. Even Renn’s personal life has a performative quality to it as he discovers that he and his ex wife (an actress, herself) are fixed in a role, playing tired old parts in a cinema of marriage. They realise that they are repeating old patterns, clichéd patterns of relationships, but they also can’t break out of these patterns, trapped in the performance.

Rogers explores the temporariness and insubstantiality of actor identity and uses his novella to illustrate the shallowness of elite society in the public eye. Readers are put into a position of examining themselves and society as a whole, looking at how we are often stuck in our own performative roles, repeating patterns that have almost become social archetypes that are inescapable.

This cinematic quality suffuses Temporary Monsters, and Rogers writes his novella with an awareness of the cinematic medium and with a writing style that focusses on dialogue and action with sparse descriptions of scenery or setting. This adds to the action of the novella, propelling the reader from one scene to the next with a level of excitement that makes it hard to put down the book.

This first book of his Felix Renn series about a world on the edge of darkness, straddling this reality and the Black Lands, a realm of the monstrous whose gates cut through our world like pins in a voodoo doll. It is at its core a supernatural series, but it is also a window into reality, with a very real hero who is not in a Joseph Campbellian hero role with an epic romance, but rather a detective who would very much prefer to be outside of the main action, a man who is not at the doorway to a relationship… but through the exit of it, looking over his shoulder with regret at the romance that has passed. The reality of this book and its universality in the human experience speaks to the talent of its author. Rogers plays with the unusual type of chemistry that exists following a relationship: the confusion of emotions, the mix of love and hate and regret, and that unusual something else that infuses the relationship of loss. Rogers is not interested in the build up of a romance, but in its decay and the awkward, confusing, chimerical mix that occurs when people are reassessing their relationship to each other and dealing with change.

Rogers’ first book in the Felix Renn series is fundamentally about change and impermanence and that makes it an exciting beginning to a new set of books. There is nothing predictable and the reader, like the characters, are placed on uncertain, shaky ground and feel the need to read through the book to have some sense of permanence to grasp onto at the end.

You can read more about Ian Rogers at http://www.ian-rogers.com/ . To get more information on Rogers’ world of The Black Lands, check out his site http://theblacklands.com/ , which contains a history of the Black Lands, background on the Paranormal Intelligence Agency, and a list of the Felix Renn books and short stories.

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