Dan Rhodes' first book Anthropology
consists of 101 stories, each around 120 words in length, and all working highly surreal variations around a single theme: relationships. A simple enough idea which is superlatively executed--the range and inventiveness of the texts within the strict format reveal a writer of formidable imaginative powers, able to move with ease from wit to farcical comedy to genuinely heartfelt evocations of loss and love. Each story is almost like a condensed novel, a distilled narrative that focuses on a particular moment, gesture or conversation, humorously unravelling the fragile structures and barely disguised inequalities that characterise the détente between the sexes.
If the stories are individually quirky, bizarre and amusing, paradoxically the incremental effect is one that is surprisingly revealing of the deep, tectonic instabilities in our relationships with partners and lovers.
If the touchstone of Anthropology is, in the end, a kind of disbelieving laughter, it is emphatically not observational humour, nor the bittersweet angst of wry comedy that dominates much contemporary fiction: Rhodes highlights the essential absurdity of heterosexual relationships, the fundamental incomprehension and misunderstandings that divide men and women. The wayward commandments of desire, the desperate mismatches of affection, the hilarious disjunctions of perception, the disequilibria of power, all are scrutinised in turn by the author's cool, deadpan prose; and the superficial equivalence of form mimics the fact that, while relationships may seem similar on the surface, each is uniquely odd, perverse or disfunctional.
The structure of the book is reminiscent of Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, its tone occasionally recalls Donald Barthelme's elegant postmodern short fiction, but Anthropology nevertheless mines a seam distinctly its own: quirky, surreal, often wildly funny and cumulatively profound. --Burhan Tufail
‘The funny ones are all the funnier for being brief; the sad ones, all the sadder for being sparse. Every one a twenty-second gem; just don’t read them all at once.’ Maxim
’Very funny and very sharp.’ The Times
’Misanthropic, macabre and mordant tales of doomed couplings herald the arrival of Dan Rhodes.’ i-D