Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stripping a Book to the Bone: Horn! The Collected Reviews by Kevin Thomas

Kevin Thomas is the haiku poet of book reviews.

As regular readers of The Rumpus know, Thomas has been deconstructing contemporary literature in nine-panel comics since 2010.  His Horn! reviews are spare, compressed works of art that infer the merits of a book rather than tediously bloviating about plot, character and theme like some reviewers (including this correspondent) are wont to do.  The first panel is usually reserved for Thomas' interpretation of the book's cover, then we're treated to eight pen-and-ink snapshots of scenes and objects which may or may not actually appear in the book under consideration.  In his Horn! review of Kyle Minor's Praying Drunk, for instance, we see starfruit, dentures, baking soda, a house cracked by an earthquake, a fossilized human footprint overlaid by one from a dinosaur, wasps swarming over a Precious Moments figurine, sides of beef, and a hamster on a wheel.  Beneath those panels runs this review (I've squashed the eight panels together into one sentence): "Though this book is full of profound personal upheavals: a crisis of faith, families riven by death, Haiti and its many convulsions; it's the experimental flourishes--an epistolary novella, a sci-fi bit, a meta-dialogue on the book's own fictionality--that raise it to the sublime."

Novelist Emma Straub (The Vacationers) testified to the power of Thomas' reviews: "How often does an author love a review so much she buys it, frames it, and hangs it on the wall?  Kevin Thomas captured the essence of my book, its very heart, and he does it over and over again for books of all different kinds.  I feel honored to have received the Horn! treatment."

Here's that graphic review of Straub's debut novel, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures:

Click to enlarge

I, too, was on the receiving end of Thomas' pen.  I'll never forget the day I saw the Horn! review for Fobbit.  Though I certainly appreciated what The New York Times, The Washington Post and Publishers Weekly had to say about my novel, I would trade them all for these Horn! panels:

Click to enlarge

And now, O/R Books has done us all a great favor by capturing all the Horn! reviews which ran at The Rumpus between September 2010 and January 2014 in Horn! The Collected Reviews.  In his introduction to the book (delivered in 18 panels), Thomas says his intent is "to blow a horn calling attention to these books.  My goal with each strip is simultaneously to get to the core of a book and to luxuriate in its surface beauty."

Having the reviews stitched and bound together between two covers makes this not only a great work of graphic art and a scalpel-sharp discussion of contemporary literature, it also gives me the opportunity to sound the trumpets about Kevin Thomas' talent.  Everyone should go check out this thoughtful, quirky poet of lit crit; and while you're at it, buy a couple of frames so you can display your favorites.

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