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On First looking into Chapman's Troikaby Jeff Foster
Copyright © 1997 by Jeff Foster
The Troika,by Stepan Chapman. ISBN 1-890464-02-3,
The Ministry of Whimsy Press
(P.O. Box 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315). 1997. 239 pages.
There are two reasons why I use the title that I do for this review.
First, I couldn't resist parodying the title of Keats "On First Looking
into Chapman's Homer." (Admit it, you would've done the same thing.)
Second, two of the lines of this poem sum up my general response to
Chapman's novel: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies / When a new
planet swims into his ken. The fantastic and dizzyingly metamorphic
world of The Troika is an exciting discovery. Chapman creates for
us a new planet crawling with bizarre creatures and ruled simultaneously
by entropy and order. But beware: if you don't possess the fortitude and
masochistic tendencies to brave this worlds ever-changing landscapes,
your brain stem might hemorrhage.
Chapman's novel, from the very start, weaves in and out of parallel
realities, dreams and anti-dreams, death and undeath, life and not-life.
The three main characters of The Troika, Alex, Eva, and Naomi
take a multitude of shapes throughout the novel: a brontosaurus, a jeep,
an old Mexican woman, a giant ant, an autistic child, a robot, a factory
worker, a woodcutter, and many others. We aren't always (or ever)
certain of what time period we are in. We don't always know whose voice
we are hearing in the narration. And we don't always know who's in the
brontosaurus body. As the novel progresses (and regresses), we become
desperately confused. If this was one of Chapman's principle objectives
in writing The Troika, then he was successful. Perhaps
The novel is about hell. Without ruining the story for you (I don't
believe that I could, actually, because there's an awful lot going on in
these 239 pages), the three protagonists (the troika, get it?) are
trapped in a seemingly never-ending hell for a reason that becomes clear
only late in the novel (it sort of has to do with the insane Dr.Mazer,
but not really). They are taunted and tortured by the elements, by the
Angels, by their pasts, by their futures, by their dreams, and, above
all, by each other. As the crazed Dr. Mazer (again, not really Mazer,
but you'll have to read the novel to know just what I'm talking about)
makes life (and death) hell for Alex, Eva, and Naomi, so Stepan Chapman
makes us experience hell by playing games with us, by manipulating our
minds and emotions through his imagination and language. We as readers
are able to feel the torture along with the characters; we too get the
sense that we are hopelessly damned to wander aimlessly and painfully
over a desolate planet.
In this sense, The Troika is a difficult and troubling novel. Not only will you have to read the work closely, you will have to read it more than once. On first looking into Chapman's Troika you will feel that you have just discovered an unknown land, but you wont have a clear sense of why it exists (or why you exist). And with subsequent readings, you will probably still be bewildered and even tormented. But this is what Chapman wants for you as a reader. He wants you to squirm. So, be ready to trek through hell with the troika.
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