THE GREAT INDOORSMAN, essays by Andrew Farkas, reviewed by Vincent James Perrone

There are too few champions of the indoors. The word itself has been sullied by incels and agoraphobes—malcontents and the discontented—connoting loneliness and isolation, despite its unassuming etymology. The indoors have languished in the cultural backwaters of nonfiction, pushed aside for the literally (literarily?) greener pastures of the travelogue, the naturalistic essay, and texts concerning Anthropocene. The Great Indoorsman seeks to remedy this concerning absence. In his kaleidoscopic collection of sixteen pinging essays, Andrew Farkas offers a fresh vision of the indoors, valiantly (and self-deprecatingly) rescuing the besmirched term with invention and hilarity. This is a book of yarns (stretched, spooled, and tangled) and we are compelled forward not only by that mercurial phenomenon of place and memory but by the pull of vivid characters. Trusted confidants, barroom strangers, and even imagined variations of the author himself make appearances, springing up like hostile replicants. All the while, Farkas, as guide, protagonist, and irreverent narrator makes for distinguished company, seeming to tap you on the shoulder and point toward the next oddity or intrigue.

Beginning with the beginning—a fragmented metanarrative as the opening essay—Farkas builds a working definition of the indoor/outdoor dichotomy and establishes his slippery, witty, and polytonal voice. We travel from dive bar to casino to failed camping trip, living unstuck through striking vignettes, receiving the undeterred wisdom of The Great Indoorsman, including fragmented texts from the figmented epic, The Indoorsiad, or The Epic of The Great Indoorsman. In one such aside, Farkas shares an anecdote about his accent—his European accent. Though he grew up in Ohio, a state less than notable for its indistinct vocal stylings, three relative strangers have all remarked that he has an accent associated with a continent containing 44 distinct countries. The humor and oddity of the interactions are then exploded into an amusing revelation, “Consequently, the outside exists in the same place as the European accent—both of them are vast liminal spaces defined by what they aren’t, rather than what they are, including the liminal space between existent and non-existent.” Funny and heady have never been such perfect pairs.

In “Wait Here?” Farkas transforms a mediation on the banality of waiting rooms into a volatile plea to seize the moment. Constructed entirely by questions, the essay explodes into revelation with the jaw-dropping nugget “Are all rooms waiting rooms?” before zooming off on a revelatory carpe diem. Next, Farkas takes us on a 90s video store quest for a copy of John Carpenter’s directorial debut, Dark Star. The cult film’s blend of low-budget sets and sci-fi comedy makes it a perfect obelisk for a tale of off-key oddity and long-distance friendship. Plus, the essay features a full exposé on the little-known musical sub-genre known as filk. Trust me, you want to know about it.

In “Pool Hall Legend,” Farkas quite literally sharks us. After unraveling the nicotine-stained mythology of the pool hall, after playfully undercutting the archetypes and legends of these mostly predictable spaces, and after thoroughly separating the actual pool hall from our idea of the pool hall like a vulgar semiotician, Farkas offers, “You can let things go the way they’re going, you can let the mystique of pool halls die and be replaced with banality, or … you could play me. You know I’m oh so very bad.”

Our wise narrator doesn’t always get the last laugh. In “On Drinking the Kool-Aid in a Coffeehouse,” he’s ostensibly hoisted by his own petard after passing judgment too quickly. With his observational awareness upended, he’s deflated into a self-made cliché. In “Noir Girl,” he’s fooled by a femme fatal without ever realizing he has stepped into mystery. Unable to recognize the sepia tones surrounding him, he succumbs to his own naïvety. These moments of playful shifting and reconfiguring reveal one of the collection’s most indelible characteristics. The essays carry us through revelations, assembling stories that seem to unfold right in front of us, effortlessly and unprescribed despite their formal invention, honed language, and thoughtful conceits. It’s the skill of a talented comedian providing the setup and delivering the punchline as though the thought has only just occurred. Another way to put it—equally relevant to this collection of essays—it’s a magic trick. For the detractors of stage illusions, parlor tricks, and mentalism, comparing literature to performance magic might seem akin to calling it a sham. But that’s not the case at all. Farkas is an honest conjurer, determined to earn the awes and accolades by letting you in on the trick as opposed to fleecing you with tricksterish guile. At the end of many essays, you’ll likely find yourself charmed and mildly delirious—spun ever so carefully to feel butterflies and never nausea.

Who would think such was possible within the confines of manmade spaces? Whether defending the sport (and I do mean sport) of bowling or exploring the infinite universes contained in a drugstore stockroom, The Great Indoorsman is never lacking for original subject matter. Cosmic horror in Kent, Ohio comic shops; Low-stakes gambling with a side of Heidegger; Seinfeld and Beckett battling for the attention of an English class—all this and more await you just inside this door. Somewhere between Akron’s Hamburger Station and the anonymous hotel room, Farkas has reestablished the indoors as the true destination for those seeking the sublime. Consider the trip.

The Great Indoorsman, by Andrew Farkas. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, March 2022. 174 pages. $19.95, paper.

Vincent James Perrone is the author of the poetry collection Starving Romantic (11:11 Press, 2018), the microchap Travelogue For The Dispossessed (Ghost City Press, 2021), and a contributor to the novel Collected Voices in the Expanded Field (11:11 Press, 2020). His recent work can be found in Storm CellarThe Indianapolis Review, and Olney Magazine. He is the poetry editor of The Woodward Review and lives in Detroit. Say hi at vincentjamesperrone.com

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