Hamish McKenzie - critic, London, Ontario

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover
A new book by Richard Meros

"How do the rulers wake in the morning and how does their coffee differ to that of the rest? Is it ground by malnourished peasantry two worlds over or is it ground by a live-in maid who'd much prefer to be grinding other things, elsewhere? And... how do modern rulers take on young lovers?"

We all have our fantasies about the Prime Minister. Those smouldering eyes; that searing intellect. That power. We all have questions about her private life -- what's she really like? -- and some of us wonder who grinds her coffee in the morning. Who among us, however, has the courage to put those thoughts into ink? Who has the audacity to illustrate those ruminations in prose? Is there a man or woman amongst us who has the conviction to behave in accordance with their ideologies on such matters of Prime Ministerial desire?

There is. His name is Richard Meros.

On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover. If the book stopped right there it would be a triumph. Meros' great gift to us, though, is that he gives us a further 83 pages of such gold. A unique convergence of critical theory, memoir, and fantastical narrative, On the conditions muses chiefly on the question of just how a young man might fashion himself as the Prime Minister's toy-boy. This book (for want of a better word -- 'novella' ignores its scholarly import, and 'academic text' doesn't encompass its imaginative elements) fuses academic discussion with self-indulgent fiction and comes up with a bastard of a product that really has few parallels (although the author does go out of his way to name-drop Borges and Zizek).

There are three distinct parts to the book. The first is given over to a scholarly interrogation of desire, speculation on Helen Clark's desires, and an outlining of the requisite elements for maximising the chance of romantic encounter with the Prime Minister. In the middle section Meros contemplates the various physiological aspects required of young lovers in today's era. The book's final chapters, hopelessly off the prescribed trail, spiral into fantasy.

OTCAPOHCTMAHYL is a flawed book. Meros exhibits an uncomfortable relationship with punctuation, and he is on the losing side of a violent feud with the apostrophe. It will become immediately apparent to the astute reader that this book is in dire need of a good editor -- hell, any editor would do. There is also the odd factual error -- for instance, Meros mistakenly claims that Bill Clinton wasn't in office at the time of his Lewinsky affair (he literally was). But such flaws only add charm to what is really a delightfully idiosyncratic tract.

Meros is also prone to digressions. Long, probably irrelevant, digressions. But they're so much fun. Consider the following, where Meros recalls and laments a non-encounter with two lucious young girls at a Timaru gas station:

"What was I to do; proposition a threesome and fuck their sweaty white twisting bodies from angles imaginable and un-? Well, that sounds pretty damn good now -- but at the time I must have had other refreshments on my mind. That actually sounds very fucking good now."

Another digression sees Meros embark on a page-long footnote, which discusses -- amongst other things -- "The erotic Zen of ken Shirley!"

Colourful digressions aside, Meros' finest moments come in the chapter called 'Physiological considerations for young lovers'. In the delightful subsection 'Nipples -- I don't care what they say', Meros is in full flight. After praising the virtues of erect nipples -- those "stark revolutionaries" of the body -- he offers: "For Helen my body will speak its mind. My nipples, like sonar, will set her two points and she must trace the shortest route. My body will tell her I am ripe and she is a cheeky orchard worker."

The Prime Minister herself must blush at the thought.

It is in this chapter, too, that Meros displays a talent for challenging societal assumptions. Consider his analysis of body odour: "Odour has no denotative elements that hint towards unpleasantness. Odour is neutral. Yet adding body makes it unpleasant."

From here he moves from ringworm to a criticism of this year's Newspaper of the Year to his conclusions. Somewhere in there his thesis goes AWOL and he ends up on imagined journey with Ms Clark, which ends with him sitting on her lap reading to her from On the conditions. I would say it is the stuff of magic mushrooms, but it's so odd-ball that it can only come from one place: regular field mushrooms.

And now, in the hope that my comments may someday grace the hot-pink cover of this book in aid of shifting copies, I shall unload hyperbolical adjectives on Meros' work: Appalling! Scandalous! Fantastic!

* Disclosure: Richard Meros is my friend.

* To order a copy of 'On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover' contact the author at meros@cornerpub.com. Books cost $10 each.