The Books of Angelhaunt:
Jason Stuart Ratcliff
Writers Club Press
New York Lincoln Shanghai
475 pp. $23.95
The best comparison that can be made is this: Jason Stuart Ratcliff is a postmodern Antonin Artaud. On multiple levels. Or perhaps a Henry Miller unchecked, with a hair fewer literary references, but in any case, wild, beautiful, dizzying. In his latest volume,
The Books of Angelhaunt Volume II, Ratcliff engages—like
Artaud—in lurid rants brimming with symbolism, scriptural overtones, non sequitur, and a constant appeal to madness. His modus operandi involves a nearly complete freedom of form, yet he adheres just enough to the vestiges of a
logical framework that the work serves as a kind of hyper-communication—imagine James Joyce with schizophrenia and a knack for disturbed prophecy and you've got the picture. But enough with comparison. Ratcliff is his own beast and a majestic beast indeed.
His heavy use of symbolism, koan, and cant-like repetition (a rare example of successful literary redundancy) mixes the personal and anecdotal with holy writ and poetic blood screed.
Angelhaunt is the apocrypha of the disturbed contemporary urban dweller, at times sensual, at times blistering in its appeal to the spiritual judgments both
ab intra and extra. The book is littered with angels, devils, demons, autobiographical icons, worms, cockroaches, and prophets, and it is cacophonous mix, not to be approached lightly or with thoughts of escapism. No,
Angelhaunt pulls the flesh aside, showing us the ugly and transcendent workings of the human animal—not always a pleasant sight but seldom less than fascinating. Ratcliff often employs run-on sentences, tense changes, voice changes, and other compositional taboos, yet for some reason, it all works. Most likely it’s the aura of madness that pervades the work that leads us to extend a
carte blanche poetic license to its author. In an understated contextual apologia, Ratcliff discusses the resemblance between the scriptural and the poetic, exposing in no uncertain terms the substructure of his approach. In giving a free wheel, as it were, to his rush of thoughts, he drags us onto the highway that runs central yet often undiscovered by the average thinker, spiritual seeker, and reader. Driving drunk on the autobahn with an archangel riding shotgun and a demon in the backseat.
The author, Jason Ratcliff, is an actual high-functioning schizophrenic. Sometime after we reviewed his first book, he applied for a position at
ALR as a book reviewer. Having enjoyed his first offering, we offered him the job—though he did warn us that his illness might result in an eventual inability to complete his duties. Sadly, this came to pass and we were forced to accept his resignation. We pass along this information so that we may explain the following to any reader coming across this review and finding Ratcliff’s name in an old staff listing: this glowing review is not an in-house pat on the back, it is the legitimate appreciation of brilliance. There is a genius at work in Ratcliff’s madness. Holy, unholy, considered or genuine?
Such questions are impudent and irrelevant. All we can say is that we fervently hope that
Ratcliff's occasional excursions into suicidal discourse are never acted upon. The tragedy of such a stoppage would go beyond the simple loss of a corporal body, stretching to almost more importantly the loss of future work from a writer of such extreme disaffection, talent and promise. How much
more brilliant will his work become with time? The prospects seem limitless.
In summation, The Books of Angelhaunt, Volume II is easily the single most interesting, challenging, and vital work I’ve read this year, and Jason Stuart Ratcliff is
a clarion voice chanting a
neo-testament for these dysphonic times. Though many will find his work disturbing, labyrinthine, blasphemous, and headache-inducing, we cannot recommend this book highly enough. Your head WILL