Rats Nest, Mat Laporte, 156 pgs, BookThug, bookthug.ca, $18
Loosely framed as the nightmares of a self-replicating 3-D Printed Kid, the 12 stories in Mat Laporte’s debut collection are united by their thickly surreal premises. “Circle of Pigs” follows a mysterious group of cowboy hat-clad men—named Colorado, Texas, New Hampshire, and Vermont—through two rituals: pancake breakfast at the local diner, and a naked baptism by actual swine. In “Total Horror,” a blinking light forms a society with other blinking lights over 777 years. Each vignette is fantastical, thought-provoking, and deeply cynical—something like a cross between a René Magritte painting and an episode of Black Mirror.
Rats Nest’s greatest strength is its style: despite his bizarre scenarios, Laporte maintains a direct, journalistic voice that’s alien yet inconspicuous. This straightness allows room to reflect on how the events act as allegories of contemporary life—which is what makes the book truly frightening. Like the best dystopian sci-fi, Rats Nest instills the sense that things are progressing normally even as everything goes horrifyingly wrong.
While Laporte takes cues from plot-heavy genres like cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective fiction, his stories tend to shirk narrative continuity. Instead, Rats Nest treats us to exquisite portrayals of existential paralysis, otherworldly ultra-violence, and mind-blowing dei ex machina. It’s clear that Laporte—previously known for his subversive and experimental poetry chapbooks—hasn’t lost the impulse to interrogate the conditions of storytelling itself.
Luckily, the fruits of that impulse are satisfying as hell. Take, for instance, the 3-D Printed Kid’s report that “the word ‘pen’ I extrapolated as: 8% polypropylene, 1% tin, 5% ink, and so on. Of course, I wrote that with a pen and I must say I find that strange as well” (150). Blatantly visceral yet relentlessly cerebral, Rats Nest is not for the weak of mind or stomach. (John Nyman)