Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again
Eraserhead Press, 2010
Even as an unseasoned critic, MCB is aware of the pitfalls one faces when reviewing young and/or emerging writers. S/he is either rife with exciting potential, or emblematic (this is the exact word one uses) of his or her generation, or both. Tony Rauch, with his third collection, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again, proves to be both, yet this isn’t a pitfall. Rauch is one of those authors for whom reviews like this are reserved—for whom they were formulated in the first place. His work is exciting, and his ability to inhabit his protagonists’ heads betrays a deep understanding of gens X and Y.
When MCB was young(er), MCB lived in a basement with a strange electrical system, and whenever MCB played the guitar there was a slight electric current on the strings. It was nothing you’d want to rest your naked wrist against, but to calloused fingertips it was devilishly thrilling. That’s what Rauch’s work is like—a teenage boy playing guitar with a slight shiver, because it’s a voice that needs to be heard, and a voice that one doesn’t expect to be so engaging. Except Eyeballs is more like that boy reflecting on his days of guitar playing, maybe ten or twenty years later, after he’s lived enough to inflate those days with meaning.
Because Rauch’s work is meaningful. He tries to hide it, describing the collection as “young adult fairy tale surreal fantasy action adventure sci-fi short stories.” You could almost fall for it, starting with “The Stench,” in which a man’s wife welcomes an enormous, foul-smelling beast into their home. Of course they would love and care for the beast, but the smell is overpowering. Following that, a neighborhood boy discovers a breeding ground for clones—and not just any clones, but clones of himself. Next, a robot rips the roof off a couple’s house. Even though these stories are one absurdity after another, it never grows old, and each one is something new. A collection like this could easily settle for that—entertaining surrealism—but encountering stories like “Activate the Mathias” indicates a more complex maturity, in which atoms
exist in two separate states—vibrating and not-vibrating. And that as they keep vibrating on and off, that time actually splits into two states—the vibrating state and the non-vibrating one. So each state is a possibility. Every moment is divided into two separate possibilities. We exist in one moment, and another version of ourselves exists in that other moment.
It’s this possibility that unlocks the book. When you get down to it, Rauch is obsessed with possibility. It seems the impetus for the entire collection—the proverbial What if?—and it’s in this underlying current on the guitar strings that one can truly enjoy this book.
Like many young protagonists of modern fiction, Rauch’s characters—mostly boys—aren’t easily swayed by external influences. A boy awakened in the night doesn’t seemed upset by the goblins threatening to disembowel him unless he hands over the Golden Eagle of Montenegro: “’It’s up your nose, you ugly goatsucker,’” he tells them. “’Now leave me alone.’” A boy who wakes up with eyeballs pushing their way through his skin—on his back, his chest, his arms, his thighs—simply puts on a turtleneck and rushes to catch the bus. “Other than the initial shock of the unusual discovery,” he says, “I actually felt pretty fine.” A teenager is accidentally sent back to the wrong time after aliens take him out to party, and upon encountering a younger version of himself in his bedroom he simply acts like an older brother. What Rauch gives us, over and over, is a world in which youth is so oversaturated by stimulus and pop culture that almost all affect has been rubbed out. MCB is tempted to call this nihilism, but doesn’t want to seem fashionable. It’s an emptiness that calls into question the younger generations’ capacity for understanding and empathy, but the catch is that lust for possibility—the fascination inherent in Rauch’s work itself. Eyeballs is a work of exploration. It is a hunger to seek out those other dimensions and learn something about oneself that is closed off in our normal world. Anyone with a sense of adventure and an existential curiosity will slip into the portal and explore the alternatives, one by one, and enjoy every moment of it.