The Strangest

A NOVEL


MICHAEL J. SEIDLINGER

"Step back Camus, your anti-hero has been fragmented and dispersed via the free-fall of social media. Michael J. Seidlinger's re-visioning enters the anthropocene without apology or oxygen masks, and asks us to take the trip toward self discovery as if the self was moving particles. A kick-ass ride. A beautiful dismemberment." —Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children

"If anyone at any time is in search of a novel that renders the dysphoria and fragmentation experienced by the first generation to live through social media, then he or she should begin with The Strangest. Like Camus, Seidlinger does not so much describe anomie as write from it; the result is a strangely resonant book that feels, above all else, honest." —Will Chancellor, author of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall

"The world that Michael J. Seidlinger navigates in The Strangest is one in which the dying battery of a mobile phone provokes more emotion than a dying tree or child, told by a man whose sole value lies in the affirmation of his online persona, each comment and ‘like’ tallied one by one. Not since Seidlinger’s last book have I encountered the chilling terror of Paul Bowles and his dissonant, virtually toneless minimalism, nor the evisceration of contemporary life that Michel Houellebecq delivers, ruthless as a diamond with a broken heart. Camus himself, I think, would affirm this homage to his famous book, with a solemn nod, perhaps, and the crushing underfoot of his last cigarette. For myself, I’m as nauseated as I am lifted, as redeemed as appalled. If you want a vision of life without a soul yoked to a vision of ways to smash it, step into this void. The lesson is relatively short, but its benefits are sure to go on and on." —D. Foy, author of Made to Break

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About the Book

Michael Seidlinger has dared tackle one of the literary classics of the 20th century literature and reimagined it for the 21st: and in Albert Camus’ anti-hero Meursault, at once apathetic and violent, unable to connect with his fellow humans, Seidlinger exhumes a perfect metaphor for the Internet Generation. Zachary Weinham, anchorless in terms of morals and committed to nothing except commenting on comments and their comments etc., finds himself involved in the sinister machinations of Rios, someone he meets in a bar, and allows himself to be set up—whether out of apathy or a desire for self-destruction it’s hard to tell. A murder ensues. Shunned by his friends and associates, not sure of what he has gotten into, Zachary heads for confrontation with society—and his own moral values.

“For a line to exist, it would first have to be crossed.”

Publication October 15, 2015 • 200 pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-682190-00-5 • E-book 978-1-682190-01-2

About the Author

michael seidlinger author photo
Photograph © Melissa Lirag

Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Laughter of Strangers, The Fun We’ve Had and The Face of Any Other. He serves as Electric Literature’s Book Reviews Editor as well as publisher-in-chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in unclassifiable/innovative fiction and poetry.

Read an Excerpt

One morning was different. It proved to be different enough. I was at the bars, but when one of the officers started getting close, I went to the far end of the cell. There’s a part of the cell that remains shadowed even during what I figure is high noon. It is my idea that they don’t see me there.

          If they don’t see me, maybe I don’t exist.

          I don’t exist, and they don’t so much as bother me.

          They don’t feed my fears.

          They had been doing that a lot the past couple days.

          Questioning, always questioning. I came to the conclusion that I was guilty. But that wasn’t enough for them. Officers and prisoners and the occasional person that doesn’t look like they belong in a prison, only stopping by, they question. With their gaze, they question.

          With their words, they question.

          My idea did not work. They saw through shadows.

          “You got a call.”

          And then, tapping on the bars, “Let’s go. Now.”

          I go along, cuffed at wrists and cuffed at the ankles.

          The officer doesn’t want to hold my arm but has to, security reasons; he holds my arm with two fingers, the least amount of holding he can get away with, and we walk quickly.

          I almost trip.

          If you trip they kick you and force you back up.

          Prisoners call out to other prisoners and guards when led down the hall. Seems they keep quiet. They only threaten me at night.

          By day they don’t want to see me.

          The walk is quiet enough to hear the thin soles of my shoes scraping against the well-worn, stained prison floors.

          The phones are old payphones.

          I don’t get any privacy. The officer stands there as I pick up the phone.

          It’s someone on the line. It’s whoever wanted to call.

          “Zachary?”

          The voice is familiar, might be my voice if I hadn’t lost it while talking to Meurks.

          “Zachary, are you there?”

          He hears me breathing. I have seen blood from my throat. It is raw from repetition.

          He knows that I’m listening.

          “Okay… I refuse to speak of the incident. I will not speak of the incident. You were always fragile. Don’t deal with social anxieties well…”

          The officer listens in.

          His voice can be heard without pressing the receiver against your ear.

          Distantly I should be concerned, but instead I lower the receiver. Stand there listening to his voice. Seems right. The only thing to do.

          “I won’t ask. I want to focus on the matters at hand.”

          It sounds like he isn’t concerned.

          He was always good about acting, hiding his true feelings.

          I get it from him.

          A father thinks he knows but he doesn’t. How can he know if I am not fully aware?

          “First on the agenda: The film footage. It is all over the net, but not for long. My attorney has made sure to contact the appropriate sources. It is obscene for any site or blog to allow for what is bound to be snuff.”

          A father judges without sounding like he’s judging.

          “I am under the impression that the associated press is going to create a media storm out of your upcoming trial. I have spoken to a number of my confidants and we are within right to assume that it is true.”

          A father once said that things could have been so much different if he had never had a son.

          “A problem, and I will not fault you for this, but it seems no public defender will touch your case. I have done my research and a few of my contacts know of some trustworthy lawyers that are at the top of their game. They will take on any case, especially one with as much media attention as yours.”

          Balance it out with the early thought that maybe for most, it is the same. Never ready, always barely able to keep up.

          “It’s okay, Zachary. I know a person.”

          He starts to sound like the way he always does, a fast-talker and a business professional.

          “The judge appointed to your case just so happens to be an old friend of Haverly’s. He’s already on it, and you should be thankful. I am not blaming you for what you did. You’ve never been the type to lead, much less follow, so Haverly and I both agreed that the truest course of action is to plead guilty to the murder under the cause of insanity.”

          He knows a lot of people.

          “I am your father. I am not going to talk about the murder. I am not going to talk about what you did. I do believe that perhaps things have gotten the better of you.”

          He is valued by others.

          “You never did fit in. I guess it was partially my fault. Your mother and I were never around. We thought we were doing our best by sending you to the right schools and urging you to participate in sports. Well, we thought we were providing you with a stable foundation. You are a good son and I know you are a good person, I am not going to say otherwise; however, maybe it’s time to consider our options. It’s the only way you will survive this case.”

          He is professional, a degree of popularity among his peers.

          “They are going to put you away for good. Or worse: Capital punishment is being put to an open forum but it is still a just cause; but you shouldn’t worry about that. Haverly has it in our best interest: We don’t have to let it get bad.”

          His own father was proud of him.

          “Understandably there will be a trial. It will be unavoidable. But Haverly is selecting members of the jury as we speak. He is working to side with the judge. And I am willing to do what it takes to save you from that fate.”

          The person people recognize has become the person he thinks he is.

          “It is a severe financial commitment but one I am willing to make. Haverly is confident enough that, within a few months, you could be out on bail. This is unheard of, but with the right people on our side, you just might get a second chance.”

          Never asks whether or not I am listening.

          “You understand what I’m saying, Zachary? You get a second chance. You can be someone else. Someone that isn’t a loser.”

          Never asks whether or not I am even here.

          “Look, I am not saying you’re a loser. What I am saying is that it’s looking like you will be portrayed as such. You are talented and capable of living a good life. We all make mistakes. You are capable of a second chance.”

          He never asks about me.

          He never asks his son if he is okay. It never enters his mind.

          The work to be done is the “matter at hand.” I hear what he’s saying, but somewhere it starts to blend in with the noise of the room.

          The phone call ends.

          I am taken back to my cell.

          With some certainty, I might have imagined the call.

          Just like you forget to turn off the lights before leaving the apartment, it’s not really there until you are forced to return. The same thoughts bring me to a revision; I see and hear bits and pieces of the call and by the time I feel sick again, I will already be at the toilet, on my knees, ready to let it go.

          I will have saved myself from having to clean up after my sickness.

Saved myself from the small messes.

In the Media