One of those really long, weird dreams: A book review of Taty Went West

If you’ve ever taken a multi-week trip across a place you’ve only ever seen a few pictures of, you’ll know the feeling of days lasting forever, full of so many memorable and unexpected things that they start to run together and you can’t remember what happened when and why where. Nikhil Sing’s Taty Went West is a bit like that, an epic psychedelic sci fi road novel, and it wasn’t what I was expecting, even though I went in knowing it had floating pyramids, machine guns, and dinosaurs.

We have this weird thing in English where  “what we see when we sleep” and “what we hope will happen in the future” share the same word, which is “dream.” Taty Went West takes both meanings as it answers the question, what if everybody’s dreams came true? (Like, seriously, everybody.) What would the world look like? What would the consequences be? What would matter once that happened?

Climbing safety sure doesn’t. Sign me up.

Here’s a few of the characters you’ll encounter, in no particular order:

  • Kenzo Coldeyes
  • Number Nun
  • Johnny Appleseed
  • Michelle
  • Alphonse Guava the Imp Pimp
  • Typhoid Mary
  • Cherry Cola
  • Bronski Glass
Flavor quote: “‘You fucking nun!’ Michelle exploded. ‘If I wasn’t nailed to this cross, I’d rip your tits off!'”

It’s probably worth noting that, in the entire book, I don’t believe there’s a single character who could be classified as “not a villain.”  Taty, the laconically passive titular character, comes the closest, but she’s still an antihero at best. The pages are populated by terrible people, which can be funny, realistic, frustrating, or, most frequently, a little bit numbing.

And here’s a short list of what to expect. No spoilers, don’t worry.

  • peacekeeping luchadores in bounce castles
  • cassette mixtapes in a Walkman
  • a deliriously happy zombie chauffeur
  • a refreshingly passive yet adaptable protagonist with no real agenda
  • brief mentions of things that eventually turn out to be very important
  • long descriptions of things that are never mentioned again
  • cupids in the trunk of a car
  • hypnotic, detailed art by the author
  • lots and lots of weird, graphic, violence and sex
  • megalithic swastikas
  • point of view changes partway through a sentence
  • widespread rape (never glorified or celebrated, though)
  • random absence of the protagonist for chapters at a time
  • a distractingly plethorific use of the phrase “seemed to”
  • characters who consistently make decisions in accordance with their natures
  • many things that you have never even considered imagining before
  • wondering why the author chose to write the paragraph you’re reading
  • wondering why you’ve never thought of the thing the author is writing about
  • a voodoo panther doctor
  • satisfying, anticlimactic, vengeance deaths
  • pterodactyls

The writing style sometimes gets in the way of itself, and it’s easy to get lost, frequently leading to the feeling of “is any of this going anywhere?” And the answer to the question is, yes, kind of, eventually. I think not knowing whether it would, though, was the biggest thing that got in the way of enjoying the book as much as I could have, which probably tells you things about me that I don’t want you to know.

Although I adore this astronaut suit design.

Destination aside, Taty Went West an intensely visual book, even not considering the (outstanding) illustrations – if you take the time to read the details (and it does sometimes take a long time), you can visualize every detail of every scene and character. Taty would be mind-melting on the screen (and, in fact, it began as an idea Singh had for a short film, years ago) –  it would be like a hallucinatory mashup of Jungle Book, Game of Thrones, Altered Carbon, and American Gods.

There’s no “point” of the book, no underlying theme, although there are quiet undercurrents flowing in countless directions. Instead, the point of it all is to take it all in, take a ride you’ve never been on and get very, very lost, and it certainly succeeds in that.

This book certainly isn’t for everyone, and I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of it, but in the end I did like it and would say it was worth the read. You probably know by now whether it’s for you or not.

If you do go on the trip, just don’t expect to find what you expect.

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