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review of Mark Katzman's M7

by John Clay

Mark Katzman writes about the simple efforts of human beings to fulfill their basic needs in an unfathomable world. The characters and settings change from novel to novel as if to tell us "See? No matter where you are, you can't escape it. This is the life we live." In the novel M7, the protagonist (for whom the story is named) is a library worker, and the unfathomable world is a library. No, not just a library, the library. It encompasses everything ever written, and everything ever written about.

In the world of library worker M7, the library administration building is guarded by identical twin men dressed in velvet who know nothing of what is inside the building they protect. The library associate from whom M7 picks up his library key invites him to handsearch her blouse for it. But this absurd world in which employees are charged, like the guards, with a task but granted no information to understand it and in which sexual encounters occur when least expected, is strangely familiar too. Katzman captures the essence of what delights us, puzzles us, and ultimately frustrates our best plans for order and meaning in real life. His language innocently and industriously weaves sense and nonsense through the reader's mind, inexorably dresses us in a big ridiculous coat of words as it deftly nudges us toward the mirror. We furrow our brow, shake our head, and finally begin to laugh.

The one thing we miss in reading M7 is an understanding of women as fellow human beings. M7 the library worker has no such understanding, and we begin to worry that the same might be true of his author. The women in this novel fill one role only: the sexual excitation and mystification of the male protagonist. Every character in a novel need not be fully developed. But at least one female character in M7 should be developed to a point that allows the reader to feel empathy and stand in her (probably high-heeled) shoes. The sexual objectification should not, however, be eradicated from the novel. It is an expression of a simple fantasy, a naive wish for pleasure unfettered from the concerns of real life. We all hold within us a fantasy of this quality, in one form or another. What we do need from the author is for him to show us—through character development across gender—that the author himself can transcend the limits of fantasy even if his protagonist cannot.

I look forward to the variations on the absurd still to come from Katzman's rich mind. Another of his novels, Pluto, incorporates a wealth of factual historical research, weaving it into Katzman's crazyquilt view of the world. I would love to see more of this weaving of fact and fantasy. And—I'm serious about this too—don't ever leave out the sex.