Publisher's Weekly, September 2009:
"In this darkly inventive second work of fiction, Graziano (The Love Song of Monkey) deposits his protagonist among the despairing crowds of an institutional hell. At first, the narrator, a thin man known as Sage, shares a tiny, dark cell with a woman and a man, Rose and Henry Greene, so-called because of the "color" of their voices. Locked together in such close quarters, the three grow intimately close, even loving; when Sage later digs a hole in the concrete and they push their way out, they eventually lose one another in the mad flux of other cave dwellers. Sage follows the herd to the feed trough, learns how to jostle savagely for the hard biscuits (stamped with and H: hell or heaven? Sage wonders) and even feels a kind of comfort within the mob: "the warmth of universal inclusion." His curiosity gets the better of him as he wonders what's behind the light holes in the ceiling: eternal freedom or eternal isolation? Graziano's grim allegory interrogates human existence with its visceral, sensuous description."
Geekscribe, October 18, 2009:
“The Divine Farce” is Michael S.A. Graziano’s third book, and his second novel. His first novel, as you may recall, was the award-winning “The Love Song of Monkey,” a short but fascinating book which I reviewed here. ”The Divine Farce” is actually much shorter, weighing in at only 125 pages, and it is equally as fascinating, repulsing and thought provoking as his earlier work.
“The Divine Farce” is about a man who awakens with two other strangers in a concrete room so small that they can’t sit down. Nourished by a light stream of pear nectar and allowed only the smallest of movements, they are trapped together for all eternity. Or are they? So begins a story of love, hate, fear, and quite possibly redemption.
As I mentioned before, this is a short book. However, not a word is wasted in this masterpiece. Yes, I call it that. I have read many classics, and I can tell you that “The Divine Farce” should be counted among them; the finest in American literature.
Why? Because, every single page will blow your mind. It is one of the most original and thought provoking stories I have ever read. Even now, having finished it, I find myself picking it up and reading over passages again, and thinking of the message within. This is the mark of true literary art: it will stay with you long after you have finished the final word.
Renee C. Fountain, BookFetish, Oct. 19, 2009:
Three naked people condemned to live in dark confinement, with walls of cement and a floor of welded metal suspended over nothingness. With no concept of time or space or enough room to even sit down, the three stand endlessly on a metal grid that allows their liquefied bodily waste to escape, while pear nectar drips from the ceiling, covering the walls and themselves; providing the only nourishment and life sustenance.
Sage, the narrator, along with Henry Greene and Rose—so named for the “color” of their voices—laugh, cry, scream and love as they live their diminutive lives in a claustrophobic purgatory; constantly asking themselves and each other, why? Their only response: “It is what it is”.
When Sage manages to find a vulnerable spot on the wall, the three escape their confinement and end up in a cave filled with millions of people; only to lose each other in the throng. Working his way through the crowd, Sage finds a food trough where he must fight and claw his way to little, rock-hard, round biscuits stamped with an “H” which may stand for Heaven or Hell. Overcome with an incredible thirst, Sage is torn between finding his friends and moving forward to find water.
It is soon evident that the cave is an endless maze, making it impossible to retrace ones steps and revisit previous locations. The cave floor is covered in a black muck of hair, human waste and mud. The vast area seems to be illuminated by hundreds of little holes in the ceiling. When Sage sees a bat fly through one of the holes he wonders if it’s his way out or perhaps just another portal to an even worse existence, but he’s willing to find out.
Being a big fan of Graziano since reading The Love Song of Monkey, I couldn’t wait to start this little novella, confident that it would be packed with insightful prose and a slightly whacked point of view. I was not disappointed. From page one, I read The Divine Farce with a gnawing sense of apprehension and rapt fascination.
Graziano takes a Dante-esque approach to capture the metaphoric essence of humanity, that is equal parts macabre, surreal and deeply thought- provoking. As is his way, the author leaves plenty of room for interpretation as to whether The Divine Farce is a comment on society’s every man for himself mentality, or a quasi-optimistic look at the human struggle. The Divine Farce may be short in length, but its impact is endless.
Michael Lee, The Barnstable Patriot, December 2, 2009
Michael S.A. Graziano’s latest short novel since his appealing The Love Song of Monkey is a remarkable work in so many surprising ways. Graziano is rapidly ascending the ladder as one our most imaginative authors, especially of surreal fiction. But don’t let the label “surreal” worry you or put you off the Graziano experience – he also knows how to weave a great story.
Graziano also gets more out of a page, a paragraph, a sentence than any writer I can recall. While some authors are churning out bloated novels that challenge the reader’s musculature and could prop open iron gates, this professor of psychology at Princeton University and part-owner of Leapfrog Press in Teaticket, writes small books that pack a great wallop and are vast in scope. That’s no easy task, but somehow Graziano makes it seem effortless. As a reviewer I’m thrilled; as a writer, quite jealous.
The Divine Farce opens with two men and a woman held by unknown captors in a tiny concrete stall. It is so small an accommodation that they are crushed together and don’t even have enough room to sit down. You get to know people in a hurry under these circumstances, very well indeed, as they are all naked as well. And yet despite this physical and mental torture that would push anyone to the brink of sanity, Graziano manages to imbue his characters (the male narrator named Sage in particular) with hope beyond all expectations of optimism. Despite its economy, The Divine Farce expands our notion of what it is to be distinctly human.
The cellmates give each other names – Sage, Henry, and Rose. It is Sage whose insatiable curiosity and refusal to accept their unexplained incarceration (none of them has a memory before being encased in concrete) that compels him to try to find a way out. By feeling along the walls, he notices a small indentation in the concrete and starts to work away at it with his tongue and fingernails. So too do his cellmates. They are determined to find a way out even if that escape is merely to a larger confinement with many more people. Still, Sage does not stop there – talk about an indomitable spirit.
While not as humorous as his frequently hilarious previous novel, in this book Graziano still manages to add touches to these characters that make them spring to life. When Sage can’t get a response from a fellow captive, he throws a stone at him to get his attention. Then, feeling guilty for picking on just another poor soul, he considers throwing another rock at him to gain his attention for an apology.
What is so remarkable about this slim novel is the scope of optimism that separates us from the other living creatures of the planet. It underscores our humanity – that which makes us so different from other species. The author continually conveys this notion, no matter how grim and, yes, surreal the situation.
Earlier I hesitated to use the term “surreal” to describe Graziano’s work because I know that word can send some readers scurrying as if from a grenade in their midst. Like most words that try to categorize an entire novel, this one in particular can stand for nonsensical or unbelievable with some readers. I wouldn’t want to scare any potential realist reader away from such a unique and powerful work as The Divine Farce by way of literary terminology. It would be like saying James Joyce’s Ulysses is simply a retelling of Homer’s “Odyssey,” which some simplistic academic crackpots have the temerity to do. One could make the argument that all novels are about journeys. Can I get an amen?
Invest yourself in Graziano’s The Divine Farce, and I’m betting the experience will send you darting off to your bookstore for his first novel, The Love Song of Monkey. This is the second novel I’ve reviewed by this author and I eagerly await his next excursion into our humanity, surreal or otherwise. The Divine Farce is an unsettling, instructive, highly original, and ultimately, a vastly entertaining read. Aside from leaving his blood on the page, I can’t think of what more you could ask of an author. This guy’s got the goods. Bravo, Graziano.
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