Are you a fan of Spike Jonz’s Being John Malkovich? How about his film Adaptation? If so, you’re familiar with the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the out-of-leftfield writer who seems to live inside his own head. His writing is always a trippy wander through a maze—always exhilarating, sometimes inscrutable, never boring. His favorite subjects are insecurity, surreality, hallucination, and black humor—and he’s become increasingly introspective as his career has evolved. As a director, he gave us the sometimes impenetrable, autobiographical Synecdoche, New York, and that film is probably the closest precedent for Kaufman’s latest project, which is the 700-page behemoth novel Antkind.
Kaufman apparently began writing Antkind seven years ago, in an attempt to pen an unfilmable novel, and, yes, he has done that. The book follows B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, essentially a Charlie Kaufman stand-in, neurotic and self-obsessed. Rosenberg is an underappreciated film critic strikes an unlikely friendship with a strange filmmaker who has directed a three-month-long experimental film that took a lifetime to create. When the filmmaker dies unexpectedly, Rosenberg is entrusted with the only copy of the film—an obvious masterpiece—and promptly destroys it in an accidental fire. His mission is now to recreate the film in any way possible because he’s convinced it will launch his own career and rock the world of cinema. Unfortunately, Rosenberg becomes hopelessly mired in self-doubt and his own myriad psychological roadblocks.
And that’s just the beginning of Antkind. What follows is a sometimes hilarious, often stream-of-conscious narrative that is by turns romantic, horrifying, self-referential, nostalgic, and mystifying. This is not an easy read. It’s all over the map in terms of tone and style and pace, but that’s par for the course for Charlie Kaufman. Prepare yourself for strange bits of Abbott and Costello parody, off-kilter film references (dominated by Judd Apatow, for some reason), ferocious anti-Trumpism, changes in perspective, and nightmarish detours. You might call this book Being Charlie Kaufman, and it will depend on your predilection for his particular kind of writing whether you enjoy Antkind. If you’re that kind of reader, then you’re in for something quite rewarding. If not, well, proceed with caution!