by Don Aliff Ernest Hemingway once famously wrote in Death in the Afternoon that “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.” I don't know if writer/artist Conor Stechschulte consciously made an attempt at implementing Iceberg Theory into his work (I'm not in his head!) but it is an idea that is very much present in his self-published book The Amateurs, though it is debatable to what degree of success.
What I mean by that is that there are a ton of things going on within the story with very little or no explanation. Sometimes it works very well, such as the use of context clues to let the reader know the time and setting instead of just outright telling that information. The clothing style, speech patterns, and references to things like carts and horses all point to a rural area set in the distant past. However, in terms of general storyline, I feel it falls a little flat in this case. The reader ends up with more questions than answers.
It starts off with a lone diary entry from one Dr. Morris Limekiln, a character never seen or heard from again. We get from the text that he and the local Sheriff are summoned to investigate a strange sighting: a severed human head that still seems to be talking. He then describes how the local newspaper sends an illustrator (No photographer. See, the great context clues again!) to make a sketch before the head is taken deep into the woods and burned. The next page is that very picture, a black and white image of a bloody bald head. Then the comic itself finally begins.
Winston and Jim, the main characters in our story, begin a seemingly typical morning as they meet at their butcher shop. However, things are amiss: not only is there no meat in the store, but they both have inexplicably forgotten how to do their jobs. As customers arrive they decide to wing it, which leads to some disastrous results. As their day continues Winston and Jim end up completely mangled. Turns out that when you can't remember how to properly kill an animal they'll struggle and fight back! The cartoony quality to the artwork turns the bloody brutality into a pretty grim slapstick.
It really is a great Twilight Zone-esque premise, but the ending is a bit lacking. The talking severed head is clearly Winston's but it's never touched upon again. Why even introduce the idea if it's never explained or really used in the story itself? The drastic and sudden memory loss is implied to have been the result of a mysterious fever, yet there is no cause given or explanation as to why it made them lose their memory in the first place. The climax is almost too subtle. A big event happens (no spoilers!), but yet again, there is no proper explanation for it, and the scene shifts too quickly for anything to really sink in. The general plot can be pieced together, but you're left with questions. It feels as if there's more effort placed upon attempting to tackle some more overarching literary themes rather than plot.
TL;DR The Amateurs has a great premise but quickly turns into a torture porn with not much of a payoff. The creator has a lot of potential if he can rein it in a bit.
A review copy of The Amateurs was graciously provided to Spandexless by the author.
Don Aliff graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2010. Since then he has dubbed himself a Professional Dreamer. You can usually find him reading, writing, performing music all over Connecticut, or passed out in the corner somewhere. Ask him to tell you a story sometime.