Review | Bindlestiff by Wayne Holloway

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2036. In a ramshackle, backwater United States, Marine Corps vet Frank Dubois journeys from L.A. to Detroit, seeking redemption for a life lived off the rails, in a country derailed from its own manifest destiny.

In present day Hollywood, a wannabe British film director hustles to get his movie ‘Bindlestiff’ off the ground starring ‘Frank’, a black Charlie Chaplin figure cast adrift in post-federal America.

Weaving together prose and screenplay, Bindlestiff explores the power and responsibility of storytelling, revealing what lies behind the voices we read and the characters we see on screen.

The term ‘manifest destiny’ was first coined in America in the mid-nineteenth century, relating to the popular belief that the U.S. was destined to spread its dominion and ideology across the entire North American continent. Holloway’s scalding satire unravels this still-existing capitalist project, and presents the reader with its near-capitulation, fantastically embodied in the decadence and corruption ingrained in the American film industry and in Hollywood. For students of film and literature, and indeed the casual reader– so wide is Bindlestiff’s reach – Holloway’s latest work is bold, fresh, and an exciting contribution to Influx Press’ enviable repertoire.

Perhaps what marks Bindlestiff as so extraordinary is the writer’s multi-disciplinary background. He might modestly claim that he’s ‘fucking useless at anything else’ in his interview with Civilian Reader, but Holloway’s beginnings as a writer for screenplays and film has doubtless filtered in to his fiction. His cinematic approach to novel writing is original and innovative and should open further avenues of possibility for future experimental fiction. In Bindlestiff, his dualist craft is effectively demonstrated: it exists as part screenplay, part novel and somehow also novelistic screenplay. The reader is thrown from detailed and evocative descriptions in Frank Dubois’ 2036 narrative which display writing ability, to minimalist and almost Beckettian screenplay scenes. The shift can be bewildering at times, and it is no surprise to hear of Holloway’s great love for sci-fi and crime fiction in this regard, which revels in intense activity and tumult.

Yet Bindlestiff can be as hilarious as it is captivating. In scenes of seemingly sensitive or tender detail, Holloway occasionally sheds light on their ridiculous contexts with biting satire. One particularly memorable moment stands out, in which present-day aspiring screenwriter ‘@waynex’ (also Holloway’s twitter handle) boards a plane and is surprised to see fellow-passenger Kiera Knightley with her boyfriend: ‘Her boyfriend was reading the collected works of Samuel Beckett and wore a beany hat. He was ‘scruffy’, it was a well-thumbed copy of the book, but thumbed by whom? Can you pay to have somebody thumb books for you? Like when you can do with online multi-player games like Warcraft when you are away on holiday?’ Holloway proceeds to imagine Chinese and Taiwanese sweatshops ‘full of thumbers’, who are read to from the books they are thumbing through, ‘possibly inscribing themselves into the very books they were breaking in…’

This early light-hearted humour makes way for some grim and darker jibes as the narrative progresses. This is partly due to an increasing focus on the 2036 narrative following Marine Veteran, Frank Dubois whose experience is desperate and legitimately moving. However, Holloway’s sharp cinematic humour is never far away. His personal insights into the film industry make these even more powerful, for they lend a frightening realism to the story. The systemic racism he captures is particularly perceptive, and cleverly communicated: ‘The casting needs to be more upscale (White). It’s just too Urban (Black) for our audience. We love it, it’s brave (diverse) but it’s not right for this campaign (Our Brand full stop).’ @waynex’s proposed film follows a black Charlie Chaplin figure, loosely based on Holloway’s own screenplay written for Forest Whittaker eight years ago, which was

sadly never made. Holloway’s protagonist faces an equally laboured and obstacle-ridden road towards production, which exposes Hollywood’s ugly and backwards priorities.

I sincerely hope Bindlestiff faces no such impediments in its road to success, and it achieves the recognition and acclaim it thoroughly deserves. Holloway writes superbly and shamelessly, and credit is due to Influx Press for giving recognition to yet another exciting voice in contemporary fiction.

Words by Ronan Gerrard.

Bindlestiff, by Wayne Holloway, Influx Press, pp.336, £9.99, purchase hereFor more information on Influx Press, visit https://www.influxpress.com/ 


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