What do Zap Comix, foot fetishism, leprosy, and postmodernist musings on the nature of fictionality have in common? The answer is Robert Peters, who has fashioned of these disparate elements a pair of surprising, deft, and funny novellas. The works are published back-to-back and upside down from one another, like pulp novels of yesteryear, heightening the sense of playfulness we encounter throughout the book.
John, the protagonist of Asbestos: A Book for Lepers, wakes up to discover that his left hand has turned to a pile of ashes in the night. He has, dare I say it, been zapped. While he could duck into despair, or, worse, outright suicide, he approaches the speedy decline of his body with a powerful sense of humor and a quiet resignation. Becoming philosophical, he realizes: “I am a prototype of late-twentieth century Asbestos Man,” and later, “ASBESTOS. Every living soul is a potential victim.” Asbestos is, in one of its guises, a paean from one of our most prominent homosexual authors to the homosexual community, which has done its best to endure the AIDS epidemic with John’s sense of dignity. It’s impressive that Peters can keep a book on such a serious topic funny, painful, and poignant.
John is also the protagonist of How to Make Love to a Foot, which is written in numerous short frames, like the frames of a comic book or an animated film flashing by. This novella is even looser in form than Asbestos. It explores John’s fetishes — sexual, literary, and personal — in a welter of surrealist vignettes guaranteed to offend and/or provoke laughter. Foot fetishism is seen as exciting both because it is taboo and because, for John, it approaches Tantric ritual.
Zapped is simply fun to read. Peters’s presentation of serious subjects in a jumble of chaotic and humorous episodes creates an odd and powerful pathos. Several layers of thought — philosophical, literary, humanistic — lie just below the surface of these pages. Peters has, with verve and playfulness, made these musings a pleasure for us to mine.
Reviewed: Robert Peters. Zapped: Two Novellas. GLB Publishers (P. O. Box 78212, San Francisco, CA 94107), 1993. 140 pp. Paper. $11.95.
Citation: Jordan Jones, “Robert Peters. Zapped: Two Novellas.” Authory online at https://authory.com/JordanJones/Review-of-Robert-Peters-Zapped-Two-Novellas/; citing Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XIV, No. 3 (Normal, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, Fall 1994), p. 225.