Incognolio Excerpt

INCOGNOLIO by Michael Sussman

Bewildered but lovable author, Muldoon, is trapped in the dreamlike narrative of his own surrealistic novel. Beginning with just a title—Incognolio—he enters a bizarre fictional realm that plunges him into an identity crisis of anguishing proportions. Is he writing a story in which his stillborn twin sister has come to life, or is he the one who died at birth and it’s his sister who’s writing the novel? Guided only by the whims and dictates of his subconscious mind, Muldoon must unravel the mystery of Incognolio and write his way to freedom or succumb to madness.


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Still stuck in this lightless singularity, I wonder how I could have been so stupid as to have ingested street drugs obtained from some guy in an alley, a pill containing who the hell knows what manner of compounds. This is evidence that I am backsliding yet again into self-destructive ways, fiddling around with my brain chemistry when my psyche is already fragile.
As my self-castigation nears the point of pleasure, there’s a sudden explosion of light and I pop out of the singularity like a Jack-in-the-box, only to find myself back on the bus. In fact, we’re on the same block as when I burped, which suggests the entire episode lasted only a few seconds.
But then I hear laughter coming from somewhere behind me, and when I look over my shoulder I see several teenagers at the back of the bus, which is odd because the bus contained no other passengers when I entered the singularity. As I puzzle over this discrepancy, we pass a bookstore called Title Wave, a business I’ve never seen before in all the years I’ve been riding the #33.
I yank the cord and the driver pulls over at the next stop. I thank her, get off the bus, and walk back to the bookstore, whose window is, to my amazement, chock full of copies of Incognolio, each book bearing a gold Pulitzer Prize sticker on the front of the jacket.
Wondering what the hell’s going on, I enter the store and a young woman by the cash register greets me. I nod my head and, afraid she might recognize me and think me vain for being interested in my own book, pretend to browse, eventually making my way over to the display stand for Incognolio and picking up a copy. Sure enough, it’s my novel. Flipping through the pages I see the early chapters: Churn the Weasel, Determinator, Jack Spaniels on the Bricks, The Revolving Cemetery, and so on, and I’m just about to skip ahead to chapters I’ve yet to write when I notice something odd about the display copies.
Not only is each cover slightly different—color scheme, font size, etc.—but each copy also appears to have a different page count. Some books are as thin as a novella while others are thick as War and Peace. When I examine them more closely I find that no two books have the same table of contents, making me wonder, among other things, how it could have won any sort of prize when each panel member must have read a different text.
Still, I’m eager to read the thing, so I select three copies—thin, medium, and thick—and bring them to the woman at the cash register, who smiles, rings me up, and says, “Incognolio is selling like chowcakes,” a phrase I’ve never heard before. When I look inside my wallet and find several fifteen and twenty-five dollar bills, I begin to suspect that the Ink has somehow landed me in an alternate universe.


Abandoned by a cackle of laughing hyenas, Michael Sussman endured the drudgery and hardships of a Moldavian orphanage until fleeing with a traveling circus at the age of twelve. A promising career as a trapeze artist was cut short by a concussion that rendered him lame and mute. Sussman wandered the world, getting by on such odd jobs as pet-food tester, cheese sculptor, human scarecrow, and professional mourner while teaching himself the art of fiction. He now lives in Tahiti with Gauguin, an African Grey parrot.

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