Raw Dog Screaming Press, 146 pages, paperback, $11.66
D. Harlan Wilson‘s Hitler: The Terminal Biography is the best non-biographical biography you’ll ever read. Or maybe it’s not. It’s actually a tad biographical when it comes to its author. Okay, scratch the whole biographical thing — Hitler: The Terminal Biography is one of the smartest meta-narratives you’ll read this year. To be honest, it could also be an experiment in self-reference. Or a very entertaining joke that Wilson put together to expose the publishing business while exploring the limits of his public persona’s ego. No, that’s not it either. I know this: it’s a good bodybuilding guide.
This is hard.
Maybe this quote helps:
“You will not leave this narrative diegesis without taking away information that you have never received before in any other book on Hitler — and not on Hitler. Hitler: The Terminal Biography compromises an utterly unique assemblage of word hordes. You will only experience those word hordes here.”
Yeah, that’s it: this book is an experience. Wilsonis a master storyteller who despises standard narratives, plot, predictability, and stagnation. Hitler: The Terminal Biography is more about the weirdness that resides beyond stories than about the stories. Sure, there are characters here that do things, airplanes explode, andWilson brings his wife into the book, but all of those are fractions of something bigger, something smart, exciting, and unique, something the author refers to as The Black Author Trilogy (non-Wilsonians can refer to this as the first book in The Biographizer Trilogy).
Think about the worst things an author can do. I’ll help you out. An author shouldn’t be brutally honest about the writing process, mess with their publisher/editor, antagonize the reader, have a flamboyant disregard for cohesion, experiment beyond the limits of the normativity imposed by whatever is selling at the moment, work him/herself into the story, and dismantle all known structures and let the reader know about it. Wilson does all of that in the first third of the book. For any other author, it’d be suicide. For Wilson, it’s just another outstanding book. Why? For the same reason not every tall guy who’s in shape is Michael Jordan: talent.
The best/worst part about the way the author does all the taboo things mentioned above is the openness with which he does them:
“I have put the least amount of effort into this book as possible. As evidenced so far, my publisher has employed a big font as well as wide margins to fill out more space. This will emerge as a book yet. And I will slip into past and present tense without the slightest regard to form, caché and fluidity. I regret some things (e.g. the use of highfalutin words like parallax, hermeneutic, caché, highfalutin, etc.). You have thanked me by reading this far. You can thank me again by moving on to greener pastures.”
This biographical non-biography is a fantastic (and here you can apply all the meanings of that word), funny, smart, self-referencing meta-narrative. It’s everything a book shouldn’t be, and it’s a great read because of it. It’s funky Freudian madness with a touch of Lacanian pulp. It’s also something the author felt the need to apologize for:
“This is the author. I’m sorry the publisher has ensured that Hitler: The Terminal Biography devolves into crass metafiction, something writers do as an excuse to circumvent the hard work of writing real narratives with round characters, intricate plots, seamless connectivities, upwellings of suspense, etc.”
Ultimately, this one is the first book of a trio of “biographies” that you should definitely read.
Gabino Iglesias is writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.