HOW I MET OLIVER MOL, RIPPED OFF MY FACE, AND LEARNT SOME THINGS I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU
WORDS || Jack Cameron Stanton
Oliver Mol’s writing is confessional, honest, endearing, and declarative all at once. So after reading his book Lion Attack! I’m trying to be honest and I want you to know that, I met up with him at the East Sydney Hotel in Woolloomooloo.
In his debut book, he claims that memory is fallible, and as a result, not everything in the book is true. Except the important part, the ‘emotional truth’, which is ever present despite the story being roughly seventy per cent fact and thirty per cent fiction.
To explain, Oliver quotes alt lit pioneer Scott McClanahan, who claims: “I never look at a painting and think ‘Is this painting fictional or non-fictional?’ It’s just a painting.”
And this rings true of alternative literature in general. Alt lit is a literary movement mostly based in America that is defined by the work of writers such as Tao Lin, Mira Gonzalez, Sam Pink, and Steve Roggenbuck. While much of the writing community is terrified of the internet, unsure of how to write it into works, alt lit embraces it both as a subject to write about and as a publishing platform.
“Traditionally,” Oliver said, “the online writing scene is poetry and creative-non fiction. So I started writing a lot of pieces that involve me or my friends or my family, and then publish it on Facebook. I wasn’t consciously thinking: I’m going to write a memoir. I was like: I’m going to Oliver Mol’s book ascribes to the same approach to literature, but adds an affectionate, rose-tinted glasses style of reflection.
In Lion Attack! Oliver writes about his life in Sydney and Melbourne and also his years growing up overseas in pre-9/11 Texas. He is a struggling writer, spending his days in reverie and introspection, all the while anticipating his first date with a girl he met on the internet.
At the pub, I ask about his abandonment of conventional storytelling. “I wasn’t interested in plot. I was more interested in how you can move a reader along with words. Like, making a page-turner that didn’t rely on plot.”
“Did you think this approach was more honest?”
“I wanted it to be as true to life as possible, because things float in and out at different times, and in real life, usually, if nothing catastrophic happens . . . things have different weight at different times. I wanted to write like this: my voice gets stuck into your head, you start thinking like me, and, by proxy, you start looking at these things in similar ways.”
“What things are you looking into?” I asked.
“For an ordinary, white, straight Australian male? I’m not looking too much into that. It was less about me and more about me being a lens to look at the problems within the wider Australia. Things like homophobia, misogyny and sexism, things that have affected a lot of my friends.”
“Is that why you love the alt lit approach?” I asked.
“Yeah, because of its confessional nature. It’s very immediate. It seems insane you wouldn’t involve the internet in writing. Alt lit is a movement of young people that made liking writing cool again. It made people say: this is real. I know the places you’re talking about. I’ve been there. I’ve done that.”
Oliver’s remark echoed my experience when I read his book. Many of the anecdotes probably sing to any young Australian’s experience. It also reminded me of when I added Oliver on Facebook. I saw photographs of his book arranged in a number of different places in my work. I work in a bookstore in the city. One of his friends had taken Lion Attack! and moved it into the NUMBER 1 BESTSELLER slot. Then, later on, another photo popped up, with Lion Attack! sitting next to a tag that said: SOON TO BE MADE INTO MOVIES. And Oliver tried to spread a rumour by sharing this photo on social media and claiming James Franco was playing him in a film adaptation.
I want to share an excerpt from Lion Attack! Maybe it’ll emphasise the realness that drives Oliver’s writing.
Someone walks in and says, ‘Any youse cunts got tobacco?
And I look around.
People look at the ceiling.
People drink from pint glasses.
It doesn’t look like any of the cunts have tobacco.
Out of all the cunts, not one has tobacco.
So outside the pub, when we were well and truly drunk, maybe ten beers deep, I tore the stifling human mask I’d been wearing off my face. Beneath my human mask was this creature, totally faceless, like an inflated balloon made of utter darkness. It had no eyes, no nose, no ears, not a single human feature. Even when it spoke, no mouth revealed itself. But I couldn’t do anything to stop what was happening. My body had been snatched by an alien parasite that had taken control and caged me inside of it. It abducted me in the night through my dreams.
“You don’t have a mouth?” Oliver asked.
“I don’t. Tell me everything you know about Adolf Hitler,” it demanded. “And tell me the truth.”
“I can’t do that,” Oliver said, still calmly smoking a cigarette.
“Tell me the truth!”
“I could tell you, hmm,” Oliver paused, frowning, affecting that the number took time to recall, “maybe seventy per cent of the truth? But memory is fallible.”
“Fact always exists. There’s always a singular, discoverable reality.”
“No way,” Oliver said. “If we go home and write about our experience here, both accounts will be different. Think: now this would be hard to do, but you could write Hitler’s biography and omit the Holocaust and nearly every bad thing he had ever done by portraying him as a struggling painter.” He relit the half-smoked cigarette
. . .
That didn’t happen. I wasn’t abducted by a body snatcher. But the emotional core of it is true, in the sense that Oliver taught me some things about truth and reality, and how unverifiable it all is.
Which made me think about how important it is to remain truthful to how things make you feel, instead of how they unfold.
I’ll leave you with another few lines from Lion Attack!
In front of me, I watch a guy join the line for the candy bar – except I don’t think he meant to.
He was walking slowly with his head down, staring at his phone, and then he just stopped walking and became part of it. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Are you waiting?’
And I wanted to know.
I wanted to know if he was waiting for someone.
I wanted to know if he was waiting for something to happen.