book by Josh Mohr
annotation by Antonia Crane
Structure is what I’ve been preoccupied with lately; the superlative way in which a story is organized can keep a reader engaged. In my writing, I’ve been toying with brevity in chapters and nonlinear timelines informed by memories. Josh Mohr’s Termite Parade is a series of flashy vignettes that are thoughtfully charged with tension. The Chapter Derek: Waxes or Blubbers or Whines is cinematic and quick, like Akerlund’s movie Spun,condensed into a single paragraph. Mired has a poetic Nick Flynn patience. Termite Parade’s structure is unusual for a novel, but it’s Mohr’s characters that leave their scent long after they’ve left the bathroom.
First, we are introduced to Mired, an unstable Filipina drunk who, after making a jealous scene at a going away party, is dropped down a flight of stairs. Our conflicted protagonist, Derek, who also happens to be an emotionally arrested identical twin, dropped Mired down the stairs after she berated him. Or did he? They were both drunk. The reader knows way more than the characters do, which makes the book a delicious page-turner.
After Mired is dropped down the stairs and her teeth are chipped and gone, Derek asks himself “What’s the difference between lying to yourself and being redeemed?” Mohr illustrates this question beautifully with his clever, infuriating characters that are repeatedly forced to face the truth about themselves. They also get peed on against their will in a bathroom in a casino in Reno, Nevada, my favorite scene. After Mired is dropped off at the dentist, Derek dodges phone calls and drives to Reno where has a run in with some fired up jocks who decide to baptize him. It’s at that great moment under an ocean of urine where guilty, victimized Derek is finally given the redemption he seeks.
Another intriguing thread in Termite Parade is Derek’s identical twin brother Frank, an arrogant filmmaker awaiting his lottery ticket break in the Film industry. With Frank, the author takes a stab at the inherently pitiful and sickening reality TV craze and the narcissistic Hollywood dream. Frank films a woman getting mugged at gunpoint on a bench in Golden Gate park at night. When he finds out they’re a couple playing at armed robbery as foreplay, he decides to stick them both up in a weird demonstration of insatiable exploitive creepiness. Derek terrorizes the couple and holds them up while Frank films the ensemble. This the stunning moment where all of the characters become their most highly destructive; they turn into the soft-bodied insects the book is titled after.
All of Mohr’s characters in Termite Parade are cowardly, guilty, irresponsible and obstinate, but they desperately want to be better boyfriends, better brothers and better people. They’re the stuck part of us that wants to change. They are what Sam Lipsyte meant in The Ask when he said our lovers are “our destroyers” because we give them our tender termite hearts and sometimes they drop us down the stairs.