Review published on June 7, 2017.
“Someday it might be nice to play
one person, but for now you live as two:
student and agent, Mr Either/Or.”
I never knew I needed an action movie in the form of an epic poem, but Mr Either/Or may well be the book I’ve been waiting for all my life. In this deliciously oddball verse novel, a US government agent masquerades as a college student until being called in to locate an ancient Chinese treasure chest containing the essence of evil, which has fallen into the wrong hands. Amazingly, that’s only a fraction of the plot of this free-wheeling, rapid-fire work in which Poochigian demonstrates superhuman creativity and pacing.
In a conventional style, Mr Either/Or might challenge credulity, with its Bourne-meets-The Mummy plot-lines; here, somehow, the brilliantly zingy poetic form lends these madcap antics gravitas and import, as well as humour and flair. At time, I laughed out loud in sheer delight at the writer’s intrepid lyrical style; there are some turns of phrase in Mr Either/Or which provoke a reaction like that of a viewer watching the most breath-taking gymnastic routine – it seems like it shouldn’t be possible, but then, somehow, it is.
Perhaps unlike the majority of readers, I encounter poetry daily; I’m an English teacher, regularly rolling my eyes at my students’ utter resistance to poems in any style. I may need to invest in a bulk order of Mr Either/Or to force into the hands of teenagers who voice a hatred of poetry; it’s a tremendous book for poetry aficionados, but also is guaranteed to change the attitude of a poetry hater. I will make it my life’s work to have it inserted into the GCSE syllabus. And every bookshelf in the world. Aside from any of this, it’s just an incredibly cool thing to read.
The originality of the form probably means Poochigian gets away with more than would be overlooked in a traditional novel; the protagonist remains an enigma, which is, of course, the point, and the romance veers slightly towards cliche, but these are churlish complaints when reflecting on something so gloriously strange and unique. I’m fascinated by the idea of verse novels and Mr Either/Or has only increased this slightly peculiar obsession.
Katy Goodwin-Bates 5/4
Mr Either/Or by Aaron Poochigian
Etruscan Press 9780997745528 pbk Oct 2017