Featured in the Reading Room 220: MOTORMAN by David Ohle

Last spring, Press Street unveiled in a soft opening the new Reading Room 220 on the first floor of our headquarters on St. Claude Avenue. The community space—which hosts events, adult writing workshops, Big Class activities, and more—includes a collection of quality books and periodicals that span subject, format, and genre. Many are from independent publishers and are not readily available in bookstores and libraries around town. As we continue to acquire books and catalog and organize our collection (which will soon be available for your perusal on Goodreads), we will feature some of the noteworthy publications that you can find at the Reading Room 220.

by David Ohle
Calamari Press

Like Moldenke, the protagonist of this idiosyncratic book that begins and ends with the refrain that he will ‘remain’, Motorman has shown its own determination to endure.  Written by New Orleans native David Ohle for his master’s thesis at the University of Kansas, Motorman was first published by Knopf in 1972 and championed by no less than literary tastemaker Gordon Lish, but was out print a few years after publication.  While Ohle published stories infrequently in various periodicals for 30-odd years, Motorman acquired a sort of mythological aura thanks to its scarcity and eccentricity on one hand, and on the other to the persistence and photo-copying acumen of a growing cult following.  Motorman was finally republished, with a keen introduction by Ben Marcus, in 2004 by 3rd Bed, and again in 2008 by Calimari Press.  A host of other Moldenke and non-Moldenke books by Ohle have since been published or are forthcoming, including The Old Reactor due out in September, which was excerpted by the New Orleans Review in 2012.

Motorman reads like an absurdist take on the journey narrative, as the singularly named Moldenke sets out on a trip that is part quest, part escape, and part picaresque.  Prompted by the vaguely menacing threats from the all-powerful, all-present Bunce, who torments Moldenke by messing with his utilities, putting him through endless dead-end phone calls filled with arcane instructions, and trailing him with human-ish, goo-filled functionaries called jellyheads, Moldenke seeks (maybe) friendly company, love (sort of), and (possibly) something resembling peace of mind.  As Moldenke travels a ruined, dystopian landscape characterized by government moons, nonsensical weather, and ‘mock’ wars where soldiers volunteer their injuries, the contrast of Moldenke’s mundane struggles and the setting’s grotesqueness energizes the narrative.  Like most books that take place in futuristic settings, it’s the recognizable echoes of the present that lend potency, here cast by Ohle, to great effect, with more deadpan menace than flash-bang spectacle.  It is never clear whether the absurdity tinges this world harmless or harrowing, and it is this tension that makes Ohle’s vision truly unsettling.  What the story of Moldenke offers is not a way to transcend and make sense of an absurd, hostile world, but rather how to live in it, and ultimately, remain.

Motorman was generously donated to the Reading Room 220 by Calamari Press.