FISH OUT OF WATER by Felix Palmer
Authors OnLine Ltd
40 Castle Street
Hertford SG14 1HR, England
ISBN: 0 7552 0172 8, $15.95, 280 pp, 2005
To begin, I do not recommend this book to readers who are not well read and do not read a lot, to readers who do not have an open mind, to readers who are offended by explicit sexual language and descriptions, and to readers who are not interested in thoughts which might challenge their perceptions of life. This fiction novel will disturb or excite, possibly both, but there’s no middle ground. . . like Cy’s mind.
What we have here is an attractive, middle-aged male protagonist, Cy, who can’t seem to find much joy in life, but enough, so as not to take his own. He really is quite detached, observing others and himself with a God-like perspective, from the beginning with his decision to kill a perfect stranger to get past his personal last taboo–murder–to near the end, where he does take a life--not premeditatively--with no guilt, remorse or consequence. The first page in the story gives us the essence of Cy and his problem. Allow me quote:
"One thing is clear, I must change radically in order to continue with my life. Murder is the first and the last taboo for me, which I must break in order to change, to move forward. Every one of us has a limit, a sort of last taboo, which limits him and defines his character, and I have only this last one. There are things I shall never do, nothing that would lower my self-esteem. Oddly enough I have a strong sense of right and wrong, which keeps me within bounds of moral conduct. I do not steal, lie, bear false witness . . . I do not fornicate. All this makes it nearly impossible for me to live. The way I am now makes life impossible. I cannot move forward. I can only maintain myself, just keep my head above the water. It is not enough to maintain the status quo. One must move forward, or else step aside. But this is the problem; there is no stepping aside when it comes to life itself."
Strangely enough, the act of murder does indeed make a positive change in Cy, and he is able to move forward. What do we make of that? Does he truly think he is God? . . . so it’s okay to take a life? But in his Godness, why did he never think to create anything? Is Cy's sense of his Godness an aberrant manifestation of the Hindu belief that "thou art THAT"?
It has been a belief of mine for some time that superior intelligence is not necessarily a wonderful gift. Intelligent people can know too much and often cannot find serenity and joy in life or within themselves. If the mind is a problem solver with an extremely limited perspective–one’s genetic history, personal experiences and environment–and one has an exceptional mind, I don’t envy that mind’s job.
The author shows us many things in our society that possibility we would rather not acknowledge, and Cy’s opinions about women, in general, are not very complimentary. In a way he sees ‘woman’ as the enemy in his conflict between his Apollonian nature and his Dionysian sexual appetites. He doesn't like how women use their sexuality to manipulate men, he doesn’t like sexually aggressive or active women, and he doesn’t like their odor.
The author has something to say, and to my ear . . . worth hearing . . . mainly because I'm a woman who will never have the experiences of a man, and through such a book as this, I might possibly catch a glimpse of life from this man’s perspective. Palmer weaves his knowledge of philosophy, psychology, and religion through this simple, journal-like story–a good contrast–reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy’s technique in his story, Confession.
I'm a voracious reader, easily reading ten to twelve books a month, and this book plain stopped me. There’s not much out there these days off the popular fiction genre mill which has much to say, most is just light distraction. Not only does Felix Palmer have something to say, but his gift for description is exceptional.
There is a darkness and heaviness about this book--a down-and-dirty honesty, which I personally like. When you hold it in your hands, you can feel it. I knew before I even opened the book . . . that it was not going to be an easy read. It is not filled with light, breezy dialogue but with large blocks of journal-like prose. Now I am going to include some excerpts so that you can make up your own mind if this book and the author’s style might appeal to you.
The first excerpt is from page 14:
The ordinary semi-emancipated woman believes that by telling the truth about her past she can wash herself clean. It is a mixture of cleansing through confession, as well as exciting the interested male by telling him the details of her sexual behavior pattern and habits. It usually works. The man becomes excited and dreams of having the attractive sinner. . . Once implanted in your mind, it makes you go through the details again and again, fantasizing and hoping to realize your fantasies soon. It is as effective as subliminal persuasion applied by a skilled hypnotist. It numbs the better judgment of the infatuated male.
Second excerpt is from page 58:
One gets used to everything. This is why the life of the ordinary man is so banal. I was not an ordinary man, but sick, disturbed. I knew that I was insane, and yet I was functioning like a normal person. But what is normal? In southern California it means running after money and consumption. Yes! It is a strange feeling, to come to realize that one is not quite sane. Only a few months ago I was so sure of myself, my resolution to murder a perfect stranger, and yet . . .
Third excerpt is from page 61:
In the criminal world I am a Don Quixote. Really! I am even more ridiculous than Maurice. At least he knows how to deal with his problems, but I . . . The thought of Don Quixote came back to haunt me. I am insane. Yes I am insane. I know it, but how? How can I know that I am crazy? Even a skilled doctor has a difficult time bringing his neurotic patient to face reality, to realize that he is sick, to become conscious of what is actually happening in his psyche. How is it possible for me to come to such a revelation? I have all the typical characteristics of a criminally insane individual, of a homicidal maniac. This innate sense of superiority to others, this inner self looking down at everyone, is the essence of the criminal mind. But how is it that I am still functioning as a normal person; well, almost. I am maintaining myself, taking care of my bills. I have an excellent credit rating. I have a job. So what, that I don’t like my work. Who likes working? Work means doing something necessary, regardless of one’s personal predilections. Work is a must for all of us who have no capital. I have no capital.
Fourth excerpt, speaking of Friedrich Schlegel’s work, is from page 90:
Then I remembered his writings on irony: the astonishment of the thinking mind over itself. It is the result of the feeling of being finite, and of knowing one’s own limitation; in truth, the irony of love. Why . . . there . . . there was the source of my feeling of superiority, and not just that, but also the kernel, out of which the true criminal sprouts. I was a true criminal. I was trying to negate my own self, the very same self, whose essence was realization of its own private being with all its limitation. Yes . . . I was insane, because I identified with God. I believed in me alone, alone as God. This is why I had become a furniture salesman. I could have taken any job, because I did not identify with the world around me, but only with the absolute nothingness in the inner world. In my innermost being I had become one with God. This is why I could not have sex with Cathy. That is why she repelled me as a sexual animal. How could I go through the act while God was watching me? It was God taking full possession of me. There was no room for Eros. I was Thanatos. Oh, those Greeks! How could they manage both?
The last excerpt from page 2 is, for me, the essence of the book:
Everything takes time. I must be patient and wait for the right moment. Above all I must learn one thing, this is, not to miss the right moment. It is not easy to grasp the moment. Anyone who has challenged the everyday routine understands that to grasp the moment is like controlling one’s dream, giving it a definite direction, an almost impossible task. There never has been, nor will there be, anyone to help. In a dream one is alone. It is like creating oneself out of nothing. Life is predictable, but only up to a point. The moment something unpredictable occurs, something sudden happens, the instant in which one must act spontaneously, one finds oneself in a dream-like state. Those who practise in front of the mirror, believing that they can prepare themselves beforehand, are just clowns. One cannot rehearse one’s own ultimate self in front of a mirror. One can never be prepared to face the unknown.
Fish Out of Water is not an enjoyable book, and I don’t think it was meant to be. It is, however, provocative and held me, regardless . . . although by page 200 I had reached a point of saturation. I do not pretend that I understood everything the author had to say, and I can understand why people might want to read it a second time, particularly readers who are interested in ideas and different perspectives about life, religion and sexuality.
As this review has become quite lengthy, I will just touch on some items not addressed: 1) Why did Cy so dislike abstract art when he could understand abstract thought? 2) Elements of humor . . . when bored, pulled out all your guns. 3) The irony in Cy's new-found sense of normalcy and motivation which was dependent in large part upon his satisfying sexual relationship with a younger, sweet-smelling, exotic, submissive woman. Whatever gets it up, and could it be? . . . he's still playing God.
I know nothing about Felix Palmer except that he was in Berlin, Germany, when he sent me the book. He has chosen not to include any information about himself in the book or on the internet. Therefore, I would like to close with what he chose to include on the back cover: "They are geese crying out loud. This is all. You see . . . language does not speak about what actually ‘is’, but always expresses what ‘is not’. It calls out something from nothing. Language speaks about nothingness."
Therefore, we can conclude that Felix Palmer has worked very hard and long to create this disturbing, exciting, controversial work of nothingness.
Review by Kaye Trout - March 27, 2006 - Copyright