Pipelines with plotlines: Josh Massey’s explosive book
—20 October, 2036—“We are offering a $500,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the pipeline bomber.” - CEO of Gasbro, Chase Beefrude.
Josh Massey’s The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree (Toronto, BookThug) creates a tension between an absurdist foray into the near-future politics of pipelines and the sincere dynamics of rural community and connection. “Artists and inventors, fleeing demons or pursuing angels, have found a home in Enderbee county,” and Massey creates a human pastiche of these misfit voices. Both recognizable and strange, his community is in a no-man’s-land between a future and mythical BC-Alberta back-country.
This is the most endearing of the novel’s attributes—its representation of rural community life: interactions, gossip, foibles, and intrigue. At the uncertain center of the story is Jeffery Inkster: elk farmer, anti-hero, and suspected terrorist. Inkster’s harvest of elk horn is both beautiful and disturbing as the portrayals of the elk are at the same time lovingly stylized and slightly creepy:
When I crank the gurdy, a Mnemosyne will come trotting to the porch with her bib of ratty chest hair wet from the pond. The horns of a Hyperion turn in the daddy elk pen, and the globes on his forehead absorb me. I brush my fingers through brown fur. Feel wet hair rub against my shoulder. Healing to touch the elk like that, and to smell the beastliness of their fur.
The cast of characters in Enderbee County includes “Artsy Boy” Samson, pipeline executive Chase Beefrude, Memily Montesquieu, Dan-the-Man Assange, cross-dressing Cheryl Hill, the Carlyle family, mysterious Mars Ares, and the Mnemosyne and Hyperion elk. These many identities meet and interact in a way that brings to life the complicated intersection of stories in communities: “How tangled are the myths that inform this place.”
One of the major plotlines of course is the pipeline vandalism and the community’s resistance to the pipeline’s presence. “Nobody likes to be infiltrated, occupied, run through by metal conduit. So it seems it is not a question of who did, but maybe who didn’t do it.” In the present-day context of contentious pipeline politics, Massey explores the complexities of the conflicts while poking fun at it all. Part of the fun involves his use of place-names: instead of Canada, BC, and Alberta, Enderbee is situated in “Can’tadia, PC Columbia, and Cowberta.” In his weird and wonderfully idyllic world there are doses of real-world threat and oppression: heli-drones, satellite decoding, and mass hypnotism.
Part mystery-thriller, part documentary long poem, part dream-vision, part political manifesto, Plotline Bomber is original, quirky, and wonderfully inexplicable. Massey writes into the novel his own apt blurb: “This novel reads like Richard Brautigan on brown acid.”