Review of 'The Iguana Complex' by Darby Larson

Darby Larson’s first book of fiction, The Iguana Complex, is a phenomenally (pheromonomenally*) turbulent and dizzying odyssey into the mechanics of language and its structure. Larson’s techniques are those of the mad scientist manipulating and revitalizing the genetic code of a syntactical/linguistic pretense we’re all too familiar with.

The Iguana Complex is perhaps less about plot or meaning than about their susceptibility to misinterpretation when expressed through the medium of written language. Larson suggests that we sacrifice language to its own limitations by using it to construct plot to reflect everything we can’t express through language.

So, Larson playfully puns:

Freeman rises. Cassandra winks at him if he sees which he doesn’t see which he might have. Orderless. Odorless. (6)
She would sea the ocean. (36)
*He coins several new terms, inventing new portmanteaus (like the one I coined in the opening of this review, based on Larson’s frequent references to pheromones):
[P]arallelosensically (5)

Musizoologically (24)

Considecidity (32)

Piccazzle (35)
And erects phrasal palindromes:
Roaring the open door opens the roaring[.] (1)
This is not to say The Iguana Complex has no plot. The two protagonists are Freeman and Cassandra. Their story blooms from sentences swarming with disjointed logic, dislocated bones of the narrative’s skeleton. It later unfolds into a story book Cassandra has found called Cat and Mouse, which reads like a more traditional allegory about animals. Cassandra’s story then becomes the story of what she reads, as all our lives are in so many ways shaped by the literature to which we are exposed.

Larson’s style is musical—he types as if playing the piano. He makes frequent references to such classical composers as Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, as if conjuring the linguistic resources needed to compose a work of music you can’t hear unless you use your own voice to articulate its melody. As music, the text constantly changes key, as if the score is in a constant state of flux, being simultaneously improvised and revised. Here, an unspoken pun: Larson the conductor, of carefully choreographed chaos (composition) and premeditated impulse (electricity).

As with much of Larson’s work (see: “Phone by Darby Larson”), his text often disappears into the white of the page and reappears, hiding so much of what he is attempting to communicate. (I have not quoted any such passages here, as I don't feel I can accurately depict them.) In this way, the text adopts the properties of a pulsar.

No, that’s silly. Not a pulsar. Smaller, quantum. Atoms, smashed in a particle accelerator, generating new particles that faze into and out of existence in a fraction of a second. No, each sentence is a leviathan moving through the pages’ white water, both reptilian and mammalian, each letter a scale on its back as it submerges and resurfaces for oxygen.

Though scientific and mathematical principles revolve in tight orbit around the story’s nucleus, it’s maybe much more fundamental: A matter of consciousness. The text mirrors the perpetual shifting of thought, of consciousness fading into and out of itself. It seems to question what happens to consciousness after death. The text also mirrors our perception of knowledge, catalogues and diagrams our desire to know everything. Larson reminds us how impossible this may be:
“May I ask, Cat, what is the purpose of your quest?” Dave asked.

“To know, of course.”

“But why? What is the use of knowing?”

“I don’t know. The answer is another thing to eventually know.”


“Aren’t some things better off not knowing?” Dave asked.

“I can’t imagine.”

“Exactly my point. One can’t imagine everything. One can’t anticipate whether a bit of knowledge will be helpful or harmful. Suppose during your search for knowledge, you discover that your life, that all life, is meaningless?”

“Then I would be happy for knowing and sad for what I know.”


“Are you saying there are things I may never know?” [Cat asks his mathematics teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Sharpie.]

“No, I am saying there are things which you will most definitely never know.” (34-40)
The disappearing sentences I've failed to quote reveal our fear of revealing too much, our desire for privacy despite how it isolates us. There will always be such questions, missing parts of a whole we can’t seem to distance ourselves from to gain the leverage of perspective. These absences reveal our secrets, everything we’re afraid to admit—even to ourselves.

Larson also frequently (and sarcastically) calls attention to the artifice of fiction:
Freeman and this new character, the grasshopper, are friends or soon to be. (17)

And is this the ocean in eight? A setting is Freeman fell in it. A character is Freeman in it. An ocean is character setting place. (20)
As well as the artifice of grammar and punctuation:
It’s a question. See the mark? (24)
Such examinations of language and its purpose seek both to avoid and reflect (disappear and reappear) what language hopes to convey while being used (as if language itself is a form of consciousness), how all who speak, who believe they have something to say, something they can hide behind, so often manipulate language for their own purposes. Larson reveals this, ironically, through language, a language I've tried utilizing to describe and contain my understanding of everything I haven't said.

The Iguana Complex is the first release from MudLuscious Press’s imprint, Nephew. It has sold out. Darby Larson is the editor of Abjective. Here is his blog.

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