A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
You need to know these things because if you come to The Pickle Index expecting a book, like any other book, then you might walk away again, perplexed. Horowitz does not do books like any other books. Horowitz lives in a cabin in the woods with a dumb waiter next to his loft bed, so he can haul his TBR pile up to his sleeping place each night. Horowitz tried to live without language, so he could see what that was like and later captured something of that experience in The Silent History the book he co-wrote before The Pickle Index. The Silent History began life as an app, through which subscribers could access a series of testimonies and The Pickle Index also takes the form of an app (but one which I can’t explore because it’s only available for iPhone and iPad), but is also immediately available as a two volume hardcover edition, with beautiful illustrations by Ian Huebert, and a single volume paperback.
What’s the point of all this? Experimentation, I guess and boundary breaking and also something else which I would tentatively label fun, because The Pickle Index is fun in the way Roald Dahl is fun – vinegary and sharp – and deliciously so for those with the right kind of palate. The story hinges on the adventures of what would probably be the world’s worst circus troupe, were it unfortunate enough to actually exist. Enmired in the outer reaches of an imaginary, Iron Curtainish state where the population must, by law, receive a recipe for fermented goods each day (this is The Pickle Index, in case you wondered), this bunch of carnies is thrown into chaos by the arrest and incarceration of their leader, Zloty Kornblatt.
Their attempt to rescue Zloty before his execution by means of one of a choice of machines of Heath Robinsonian cruelty (my favourite is the Wall of Bees & Wallabies), forms the first part of the narrative. The second consists of a series of articles from The Daily Scrutinizer, the capital city’s official organ, which expand on the peculiar customs and habits of this most peculiar place. If I say that The Pickle Index contains a starring role for a dog named after the 8th US President and that Madame J, Head of the Pickle State, carries with her at all times her pet, a Javanese octopus called Simeon, that should give you some idea of the mad inventiveness of the story.
But inventiveness is not a rare quality in literature, because inventing stuff is what writers do and in that respect, The Pickle Index while fun, can’t lay claim to anything remarkable. What about that third point in my list about Horowitz above? What about changing the way we read? This is where the app comes in and possibly the split into two narratives, but despite all that I read the book in the same way I read any other book, from start to finish, with a pause for dinner and The Apprentice, because reading is an activity so ancient that even Eli Horowitz and his collaborator on this project Russell Quinn, won’t change that, not easily at least.
That said, there is a way in which The Pickle Index can lay claim to a shift in attitudes, though perhaps not one as seismic. Read it with current events in mind, and you might get a hint of extra sharpness. Satire isn’t popular in the US, but The Pickle Index is a satire, though one of a tangential and subtle sort. Only time will tell if this heralds a new era of American conscious-raising. I kind of hope it does.
In the meantime, enjoy The Pickle Index for what it is – a wildly entertaining romp. Go forth! Read! And in the true spirit of The Pickle Index may I express the hope that your children will make responsible decisions about their reproductive organs and use them to create a new generation of dedicated professionals.
Hardback, ISBN: 0996260803, 248 pages, Sudden Oak Books, £18.31