Today we welcome author David Cohen to Booklover Book Reviews to share with us the story behind his latest novel, Disappearing off the Face of the Earth.
‘David Cohen takes suburban life and turns it into a warped comedy with a body count, letting weirdness in, compellingly, irresistibly, until our sense of what’s real is flickering on and off like a dodgy fluoro tube.’ — Nick Earls
And, thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing, we have 2 paperback copies of Disappearing off the Face of the Earth to giveaway.
I used a self-storage facility when I relocated from Melbourne to Brisbane in 2010, and I thought it would be a great setting for a story or novel: plenty of scope for all manner of strange goings-on behind that bland exterior. I’m interested in those sorts of ‘non-places’ as fictional settings. I stored the idea away, so to speak, in my memory.
At some later point I read an article about the boom in the self-storage industry, and the fact that renters are leaving their belongings in storage units for increasingly long periods. Why, the writer wondered, do we shell out good money to lock our surplus items away – items we may never use or look at again? Why this desire to hold on to things, even if we die before we can retrieve them? One psychologist suggested that this behaviour reflects the effect of consumerism on how we see ourselves: we’ve confused who we are with what we have – whether it be a seventy-thousand-dollar BMW or the hundreds of mixed tapes I made as a teenager and schlepped from house to house for fifteen years, even though I never played them.
In 2011, with such weighty speculations in mind, I sat down to write the great self-storage novel, but what emerged was quite unlike the published version: Ken was still the central character, but a fairly regular sort of person running a fairly regular sort of self-storage facility – if there is such a thing – until he became obsessed with a particular rent defaulter, whom he attempts (unsuccessfully) to track down. I was partly inspired by José Saramago’s novel The Double; unlike The Double, my novel came across as rather contrived and not particularly compelling. I knew it required fundamental changes, but I didn’t know what those changes should be.
Some time after that I saw in a post office or somewhere one of those posters with a series of missing-persons photographs. I found the photographs, and the sparse details accompanying them (‘Last seen at X…’), haunting and disturbing. I did a bit of research into missing persons in Australia, noting that while most are located – sooner or later, dead or alive – a tiny percentage are never seen again.
So I thought: why not put this missing-persons thread together with the rent-defaulter thread and see what happens? I also decided that, instead of the storage facility merely being just a setting, a place where Ken works, it should be integral to the story. And instead of having Ken pursue a particular defaulter, I employed the familiar mystery/thriller device of serial disappearances (from the facility), and made this the focus of the story.
I also ditched the third-person narrator, which wasn’t really working, and told the whole story from Ken’s, frequently unreliable, point of view. Ken had in the meantime evolved into a much weirder character, and his warped perspective on things linked directly to his relationship with Bruce, whose character had also undergone an overhaul: while still Ken’s ‘assistant’, as in the original version, his position vis-à-vis Ken had changed dramatically.
In the process of rewriting, I also began to think of the storage facility less as a symbol of consumerism and more as a warehouse of people’s memories, their personal histories. The physical deterioration of the facility is a sort of metaphor for Ken’s mental decline, and that of other characters such Uncle Dennis. While Ken’s clients at the facility are literally vanishing, ‘disappearing’ also refers to losing one’s sense of self – which is what is happening to Ken, Dennis, and others.
The book has undergone further changes in the period between that extensive rewrite and the published version, but those essential elements are all still there. I hope readers enjoy my modest contribution to self-storage-themed fiction.
Disappearing off the Face of the Earth by David Cohen
Hideaway Self Storage, located just off Brisbane’s M1, is in decline. But manager Ken Guy and his assistant Bruce carry on with their daily rituals even as the facility falls apart around them. Lately, however, certain tenants have been disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving behind units full of valuable items. Ken has no idea where these rent defaulters have gone but he thinks he might be able to turn their abandoned ‘things’ into a nice little earner that could help save his business. But the disappearances are accompanied by strange occurrences such as Bruce’s inexplicable late-night excursions, Ken’s intensifying aversion to fluorescent lights, and Ken’s girlfriend’s intensifying aversion to Ken. While further along the motorway, construction of a rival facility – Pharoah’s Tomb Self Storage, part of a nationwide franchise – hints at a mysterious past and a precarious future.
A surprisingly funny study of physical and mental deterioration, David Cohen’s second novel is never quite what it seems. Sharply attuned to the absurdities of contemporary urban life, it is that rare literary beast, a comic drama that is at once intelligent and suspenseful, humorous and deep.
‘Few writers write about the world of work, and fewer still with the skill and mordant wit of David Cohen. Funny, disturbing, and wonderfully strange.’ — Ryan O’ Neill
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
About the Author, David Cohen
David Cohen grew up in Perth, Western Australia and now lives in Brisbane. His first novel Fear of Tennis won a Varuna/ HarperCollins Manuscript Development Award, and was published by Black Pepper in 2007. His short fiction has appeared in The Big Issue, Meanjin, Seizure, Tracks and elsewhere. In 2016 his short-story collection The Hunter was shortlisted in the inaugural Dorothy Hewett Award for an unpublished manuscript.
Thanks to the lovely people at Transit Lounge Publishing we have 2 paperback copies of Disappearing off the Face of the Earth to giveaway:
- open to entrants with Australian/New Zealand mailing addresses
- extra entries for spreading the word via Twitter and Facebook/Google+/Webpage
- extra entries for registered participants of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017
- entries close midnight 17 May 2017
- the winners will be randomly selected and announced on our Facebook Page
- the winners must respond to my email requesting their mailing address within 5 days otherwise their prize will be forfeited and another winner selected
SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – See winners announcement