Something Written on His Wrinkled Skin (Bad Day on the Midway novel)

Book 'em, Danno.Randy Rose has written a novel.  Perhaps it’s a novella – I abandoned both sides of that argument decades ago.  But whatever it is, it’s definitely a long-form story based on the characters and events of Bad Day on the Midway, the CD-ROM The Residents produced back in the 1990s.

I suppose it’s not unlike a movie tie-in novelization, in that it is largely the familiar story but with some elements changed or added.  With movies, it’s usually the case of the author working with an early version of the script (a necessary evil so the book and movie can be released at the same time) and therefore includes dialogue, scenes, and sometimes entire subplots that were cut from the final film.

So here we’re allowed to imagine a situation in which there existed more characters and events than we saw in the game.  That must be the case – there’s no way every idea wound up in the final product – but this book is certainly not that original story.  No, this is a new departure for the project, a practice familiar to The Residents, though I am surprised at how closely it follows the source material.  I would have expected many more new characters and situations, essentially a brand new experience.  But apart from Tebo and the man from the health department there’s really nothing of great note added.  It’s more expanded than reimagined.

Which brings me to the companion CD, which bears the title Bad Day Reimagined.  Under the hood, however, it functions just like the book – the original music is there, but enhanced and expanded, and little has really changed.  Now one could argue the music is wildly different, more so than the book, but that ignores the fact that the book has changed the very medium from nonlinear interaction to standard narrative.  A step back in technology, sure, but an unexpected turn nonetheless.

The book is new, very new. Unlike a movie adaptation based on an early script, this isn’t a look into what might have been.  This is a look into what is.  A novelization was never on the table until recently, so what we have here is a new project with the defining limitation of being based on an earlier work.  Like much of The Residents’ oeuvre, I’m taken more with the concept than the execution.  The Residents are great storytellers, and this is a great story, but unfortunately not a great novel.  It suffers from the dreaded problem of much modern writing: lack of editing.  It’s one thing to proofread, another to edit.  The world is short on editors, partly because of the general slow death of journalism, but also for something that’s otherwise positive: the barrier of entry has been lowered.  Anyone can publish a book, and that’s wonderful.  But on the other hand, anyone can publish a book, and that’s terrible. This isn’t as clear cut as the invention of the printing press (it stunted the growth of language, but the benefits far outweigh that downside) because despite my love of freedom, I still want expertly crafted stories.  I suppose I’ll accept the new paradigm, because it brings with it an army of online reviewers which will allow me to filter out the lesser works.

That said, I’d read a Residents novel regardless of, or perhaps in spite of, the reviews.  I like their content, if not always their form (there’s concept vs execution again).  This definitely fares better than a bad Stephen King book – the man excels at short stories and epically long novels, but can fail at works that fall in between.

But it’s that indomitable will that I find so endearing.  Part of the genesis of this project was probably the idea that music groups simply do not write novels.  “No better reason to try,” I can hear Randy say, before setting out to do it.

Maybe it’s a one-off not meant to be repeated, but just in case I hope editors come back in style.