Yeah, that's basically my default reaction-thought whilst reading & rereading the books included in this Michael Cisco box set. Which, incidentally, include:
- The Divinity Student
- The Golem
- The Tyrant
- The Traitor, and
- Secret Hours
Admittedly, I was using far fouler language than "snap" in due course of my reactions, but I assure you that this is well-justified. Don't get me wrong: I could/can figure out WTF's going on in all of the novels (less so in the bits-n-pieces/short stories of Secret Hours), but the details & their build-ups tend to escape me. I suppose this is only natural, considering how Dr Cisco presented his tales in such hallucinatory, dream-like sequences.
Reading fiction can be an anodyne against the gauntlet of life that one faces during the day, but on the other hand it can also be an instigator of vertigo. This is something I realised as I was going through these books. Indeed, so strong was the sense of confusion resultant from my endeavours to fully comprehend Dr Cisco's words, that sometimes I actually had to put his books down & run through something more digestible - like Sherlock Holmes, for instance - and then come back to him a while later. Taking a break from reading by reading something else: now that's something I don't do often at all, after my university days.
That said, it must be conceded that the quality of Dr Cisco's prose is impeccable, and that the visions conjured by his words are enthralling, to put it lightly. As an illustration, consider the following passage, as extracted from The Traitor (extract also available on the author's official website):
"My uncle Heckler tortured me to bring me among the apostates. He tortured me with the eyedrops to inoculate me against torture. The preparation for torture is to be lovingly tortured by your teachers, full of remorse. They shock to inoculate against sterner shocks, full of remorse. I brought Tzdze onto the balcony and unknowingly gave her that stark shock, that amounts to showing her how things stood then, better that than allow White to come to her directly."
Passages like the above did not immediately click with me upon first read, nor did they seem particularly convincing. However, they did firmly cling at the back of my mind, nagging at my subconscious, quiet yet unrelenting in their inexorable demand for my renewed attention until finally I would give in & revisit the books. Though I do not regret this action, it must be said that the overall re-reading experience was quite as not-fun as the first, even if events & images & visions did make more sense on second try.
In fact, I do not recommend Dr Cisco to anyone looking for a fun read to while away the grey hours. But if you're like me - monomaniacal & considerably masochistic in your pursuits towards the darker side of fine literature - then this collection should be right up your alley.
With regards to presentation, the whole set is well-nigh flawless. The papers are very thick, & feel almost like they're received a thin film of plastic coating. The smell of pulp and glue is most cloyingly intoxicating. I also like the sunk-reliefs etched against the front hard-cover of each book, and extra points are awarded for the dust-jackets being printed without gloss - the lack of gloss imparts the sense of griminess ever present in the stories themselves. Harry O. Morris' febrile illustrations & collages serve as perfect company to Dr Cisco's methodically insane prose. It is such a shame, then, that they are few & far between, and that the amount of artworks presented in a particular book is inversely related to the latter's own recent-ness i.e. The Divinity Student, being Dr Cisco's first opus, has the highest number of illustrations. But that matters little, in the end.
Tl;dr version: a very nice set of great (but not exactly fun) reads.