Jamie Iredell’s second full-length collection of genre-defying acrobatics (the title of his first, for instance, is Prose. Poems. A Novel) is a compendium of freakish behavior. Like a dictionary, the entries are arranged alphabetically and each entry features a “freak” definition. The purpose for the book is spelled out on page 55, under the entry, “Front Matter.”
This Book was written for one purpose and one purpose only: So that readers will become aware of, and respect the existence of, FREAKS in the reader’s everyday experience. The compilers and editor have no illusions about this book being used a reference tool. They expect you to use this book, make love on top of it when it’s been left on your bed and forgotten in the passionate sweep of general missives to the floor at such times, and they expect you will often spill your beer upon it. After you have learned about FREAKS, you can throw this book away…
All of which is a bolder undertaking than meets the eye (as the “compilers” note in the entry FREAKS) because if you’re going to be talking about “Freaks,” which is–as one may have already suspected–basically everyone, how do you so without ostracizing and/or offending? Ah. This is but part of the essential genius of Iredell’s voice. Importantly, you use humor, and the book is hilarious. In pieces like “Pet Sitting” and “Eagle Scout” and “Boobs” and “Thick Hair” and “White People,” the humor is literally Laugh Out Loud funny. In most cases, however, Iredell’s humor is a satirical blend of coarseness and philosophical high-mindedness. Which is another important necessary characteristic for such an enterprise: Don’t be afraid to offend–and when you do, at least slay them with the truth. It all comes together in a compressed volume that, in spite of its lack of narrative and apparent self-effacing quality (see above), invites re-reading and, like a favorite album (for those of us who remember such things), grows on you with each new sitting.
I will also add that The Book of Freaks has an original approach on the convention of self-reference. It upends the “conventions” of an Index, Dedication page, First Title Page, Second Title Page, Blurbs and other aspects of a book, for instance, by alphabetizing everything. To me, the suggestion is (or I could say “the way the form meets the subject” if I were feeling especially scholarly), nothing is above (or immune to) the satirical eye of Iredell, the “compiler” of all things freakish, including the creation of this thing called “literature” itself.