I could not fully enjoy The Atrocity Exhbition, I appreciate and respect it greatly, but it is by its nature, absurd and estranging.
Strange and short, the book presents itself in the first ten chapters as individual paragraphs. The paragraphs, though linked, do not read conventionally or consecutively; every chapter is a vignette, a fragment of a story, yet they appeared to me as pieces meant to function in and of themselves as separate novels. I understood that Traven, Talbot, Travis and so on, save for a change of name, were the same character with the same preoccupations, but I had to work to allow myself to accept that he was the link between each chapter. The chapters are repetitive—and despite their disquieting fixation on sex and cars—redundant; each chapter is a readjustment of the last, and repeats similar ideas throughout the book.
While reading, I was overwhelmed with the same frustration I imagine one would have piecing together a puzzle with pieces that fit together, yet come from many different places and form no coherent image at the end. The book is about Travis’s (and his alter egos’) obsessive research about sex with Ronald Reagan, Ralph Nader, and the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, President Kennedy, yet it isn’t. Sex, media and death dominate the book’s every lines, yet they don’t; sex, media and death are explored through car crashes and automobiles—Travis and his many alter egos are on an endless quest for the meaning in the angle of a woman’s thighs in the wrecks of American cars. The Atrocity Exhibition, was like a Los Angeles county parking sign—extremely specific, yet dangerously ambiguous.