Aaron Poochigian’s Mr. Either/Or is an ingenious debut, a verse novel melding American mythology, noir thriller, and classical epic into gritty rhythms, foreboding overtones, and groovy jams surrounding the reader in a surreal atmosphere. Imagine Byron’s Don Juan on a high-stakes romp through a Raymond Chandler novel. Think Hamlet in Manhattan with a license to kill.
Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His book of translations from Sappho, Stung With Love, was published in 2009. The Cosmic Purr, a book of original poetry, was published in 2012.
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Mr Either/Or is like nothing else you will have read. You have to imagine Raymond Chandler, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, the script-writers of The Sopranos, Robert Browning and the author of Beowulf all being miraculously melded into one supremely talented writer, with a gift for rhyme, for metrical verse and for extravagant but spot-on metaphors. The story is entertaining, fast-moving and delightfully over-the-top. We move from mysterious Eastern legends of “The Dragon’s Claw” (shades of Modesty Blaise?) to espionage-fiction with shades of gritty hardboiled, and finally to an imaginative parody of apocalyptic science-fiction. It all takes place in contemporary New York, which is described with a loving but acutely sardonic eye, from the gingko trees of Washington Square to Trump’s Palace poking “its crenellated top / over boutiques and consulates,” from the “slick / avenues of primordial goo” of the sewer system (complete with army of subterranean “troglodytes with dirt/ for skin, sporadic teeth and vermin eyes”), to the halls and galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, all culminating in a surreal grand finale with lizard-like invaders assaulting the mast on the roof of the New York Times Building. Poochigian alternates action-scenes in superbly handled alliterative verse in Anglo-Saxon style (scenes of gang-warfare, of fights with aliens, chases through the subway, through the galleries of the Met and across Manhattan by car) with deft narrative and dialogue in rhyming iambic pentameter. There is no other voice quite like this in contemporary fiction or contemporary poetry: ranging from coolly colloquial to wittily literate and, when called-for, straightforwardly thrilling. Poochigian is enjoying himself. Read this book and you will enjoy yourself too. That’s a guarantee.
–Gregory Dowling, Ascension