“Book Review: House of Apollo”
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
An eccentric dystopian take on the modern Apollo
House of Apollo’s tone takes on the level of Orwellian suppression that readers want out of dystopian fiction. Throughout the novel, author Maxwell Olin Massa clashes polar opposites in order to offer something new to the dystopian genre. He mixes the technical, droney language of main character Caleb with the convoluted poems of Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy. He creates an interplay between the Apollonian and Dionysian, and he traps us in a singular setting that is both dull and mysterious, routine and frantic. In theory, the novel is quirky and peculiar, but Massa challenges the reader’s intellect and feelings until the end.
At Longshot Insurance, Caleb works as a graphic designer implementing microinsurance under Old George, the boss. Since clients never collect on the menial things they wish to insure, like a hairdo for a night out, it’s better described as assurance rather than insurance. This also means that no other departments are necessary and the majority of the offices have been cleared out.
Caleb is a very particular man. He not only works in the Longshot Insurance Building, but he also lives, eats, and sleeps there. He is painfully self-controlled, relishes order, and succeeds in his designs and projects. He has command over all his female employees save for Vera, an unruly and unpredictable woman who works throughout the building. After a fateful encounter with her, Caleb begins to lose his handle on everything from his position within the company to his own body organs. He starts to reach for his role within the system and questions if there even is a spot for him there.
Massa mercilessly toys with our senses throughout this eccentric novel. In one moment, Caleb walks the halls of the bleak, sterile building and then suddenly comes across (or gets shoved into) abandoned rooms that are overtaken by pops of color and chaos. We get a mood whiplash from experiencing two extreme versions of the same place, and in turn begin to understand how these changes begin to chip away at Caleb. The once ordinary office building twists into a labyrinth with poetry and chaos waiting for us at different bends. Indeed, the building acts as an awesome device to join Caleb’s repressed tone with that of Nietsche’s poetry of the gods.
Caleb is not the only one who bends under the repression of working at Longshot Insurance, but he is the only character to whom Massa gives any real depth. There are numerous times where we have the opportunity to get to know a woman character better, but it never comes to fruition. Instead the author chooses another tactic like mystifying her or having Caleb admire her breasts rather than her work. It’s difficult to get past these sexist undertones which ultimately hinder Caleb’s likeability throughout. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that perhaps Massa set himself up for failure on this point. If the material that one is inspired by precedes the very notion of misogyny and sexism, how can it truly exist? I suppose that answer is up to the reader to decide.
As a whole House of Apollo is a novel that I thought about a lot. I believe Caleb aspires to more within the office, but I am not convinced that he truly dreams beyond the oppressive system he occupies. Massa might be telling us that this isn’t the point, but it’s something I’m still pondering on myself. If the character doesn’t notice the ways in which he is confined, can we truthfully root for his escape?
Publisher: Whiskey Tit
Paperback: 233 pages
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