Book Notes: The Short Fiction of Max Lavergne

Who is Max Lavergne? Why is Max Lavergne? And how do you begin to review an author whose best-known work is Spiders Georg?

"Spiders Georg" has taken on a life of its own, appearing in a textbook, at least one video game, lectures, callout posts, and innumerable spinoff memes. I've checked the literature, and while I can't find an applicable X. georg (or related spelling) species named after 2013, it's clearly only a matter of time before some bored entomologist names a ravenous cave-dwelling wasp in the family Pompilidae after Georg. Lavergne, like Gelett Burgess, seems to be over it.

Lavergne maintains a tumblr and a twitter, both posting approximately the same sort of post-ironic thing, like a perpetual standup comedy gig, throwing ideas into the void. It's all in good fun. If you are an academic trying to make sense of tumblr microfiction culture, you could do worse than starting with the works of Max Lavergne. You've got 12+ years of data. Go nuts. And good luck.

Since the dawn of the internet, all lowercase text seems to signal low investment. Don't take this seriously. It's all just words. I am a hip young fun person and not a brand or a stuffy old author or a tryhard academic. Capitalization is for serious high-effort posts only. Capitalized, it'd be hostile; without caps, it's merely saucy. This self-effacing, criticism-devouring fun makes serious (or even semi-serious) analysis difficult. It's easy to imagine the response being something like: 

"look at you, analyzing themes and craft. try eating soup instead. mmm soup"

And this imaginary reply makes a very good point. Life is short and I could be eating soup right now. Still, I thought I'd give it a try. Lavergne's work is well worth examination, and nobody seems to have heard of it. Here are some notes on a few selected short stories.


Many of Lavergne narrators experience feelings of inadequacy, ugliness, failure, awkwardness, and formless frustration (see The Aftermath of the Scene at Bert Nert's, Wolfman Moves To Town, and particularly Sweet Belinda.) Few bother grappling with them. There's some half-hearted slapping at best. They never rise to the level of antihero. Beneath their tepid and feeble exteriors lurk tepid and feeble interiors... most of the time.

But sometimes, you get a story like Blu-Ray. The tone is conversational, but it's not a conversation you signed up for. I don't know how to explain it, but the narrator of Blu-Ray feels like they're telling you the story while eating. Sauce on the chin, noodles in mouth, swigs of soda. Something about the sentence structure suggests moist gulps for air and gestures with a plastic fork. And you want to be elsewhere, away from this person who desperately wants you to be sympathetic. It's a funny and deeply unpleasant story.


Since this is theoretically an RPG blog, a story about elves should fit right in. And this is a very, very funny story about elves. Anyone who's ever run a campaign with an obviously cursed sword will be pleasantly delighted.

Lavergne plays with levels of language formality (See Draw Him Red With Horns and Preparing The Beast For The Ferryman). Elvendoom shifts from high fantasy pomp to the vernacular at unexpected moments. I think people tend to miss the little incongruous jokes in traditional humorous fantasy stories like Dunsany's The Hoard of the Gibbelins because language has moved on, but they are there. The worldbuilding is superb. Galvanir is an elf who can backflip around a prison cell, fire an arrow while running, casually slay goblins by the score, move with ethereal grace and delicacy... and also has self-esteem issues, and a bald spot, and a tendency to whine. It's great.

Let Me Tell You About My Saab: I, II, III, IV, V

The Let Me Tell You About My Saab series is weapons-grade absurdist genre fiction. Some stories are likened to hypnotic car crashes. Lavergne puts you inside the crashing car. Buckle up. Entry III is my favourite. It's perfect: the pacing, the characterization, the worldbuilding, the sense of movement and scale and completely absurd stakes. 

If you like ridiculous car-based microfiction, seatsafetyswitch might also be up your alley.

The Rock Breakers

I've described Max Lavergne as "Thomas Ligotti on uppers".[1] The universe is profoundly absurd. Why worry about it. Will worrying help? Is suffering just a matter of perspective? What's it all about? And who's going around half-filling these glasses?

[1] Here, in this post.

The nightmarish dilapidated hospitals in Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco and The Shadow, The Darkness are places that both treat and spread sickness. Characters are sometimes trapped inside, desperate to escape the maze of bloodstained doctors, cracked tiles, grime, bandages, and feverish, contagious dreams. For Ligotti, the hospital-maze is the universe, and there is only one exit.

The narrator of The Rock Breakers has a desperate, utterly craven desire to get in. The laboratory-hospital is comically horrible, like a mad stock footage mish-mash, but that's how nightmares work sometimes. Even in a dream, the narrator fantasizes about a situation that would be, to most, a nightmare. Is The Rock Breakers even a horror story in the conventional sense? As an anonymous commenter said, "I can taste bile in my throat now so I guess that makes it art."

Ligotti writes, "While horror may make us squirm or quake, it will not make us cry at the pity of things." But many of Lavergne's stories are often driven by pity (of one sort or another). The narrator of The Rock Breakers is both pitiable and desperate to be pitied and, simultaneously, contemptible.

Lavergne employs dreams or stories within stories to great effect in Brine From The Higher Vats and The Tether.


Catstrata is about the hell of customer service, of subscriptions and automated payments. It's a shaggy dog story about Schrodinger's Cat, and also the horror of death in general. One day, your very real cat will no longer be there, and there is no customer service line to call. We rebel at the arbitrary cruelty of deleting a digital relationship simulacrum, but only because there was another option available. 

April is a well-crafted and devastating short story.

Unlike celebrity autobiographies and bad fanfiction, Lavergne's simple sentences are simple because are honed. They aren't polished to remove the rough edges, they're sharpened into weapons. Lavergne has craft, even when portraying simple thoughts (see I Have An Illegal Aviary, Through The Corn). Reading his stories is like firing a machine gun into your frontal lobes. His stories are long enough to work out their ideas, but no longer. In the hands of a different author, stories like The Fluid could be stretched to novel length without any benefit.

Lavergne is apparently Australian. Come on Australia, don't you have grants for authors? April feels like it could be included in an English language textbook to be dissected by generations of indifferent schoolchildren. What a legacy.

The Inherent Goodness of the Glowering Malcontent

A poem about human nature that's very fun to read aloud. I used the final lines an epigraph in the Sci-Fi chapter of the Monster Overhaul. I like putting cycles and patterns in my books, and it pleases meif no one elsethat the epigraph in the final chapter pairs with the epigraph in Chapter 1: People, which is taken from the first lines of Wisława Szymborska's A Word on Statistics.

So on a list that contains Szymborska, Shakespeare, Milton, Lucretius, the author of Ecclesiastes, and Skaay of the Qquuna Qiighawaay... you can also find Max Lavergne. Which is arguably a condemnation of my tastes, but it's my book and nobody reads epigraphs anyway.

Final Notes

If there is any justice in the world, the blind idiot god of publishing will reach down and pluck Lavergne like a delicate flower, put him in a vase, and water him with fame and treasure, or even with moderate recognition and a mass market paperback, and perhaps a sly reference in an HBO series. In the meantime, you can buy a collection of his works, Blue Night At The Cult. Print copies are not currently available, but you can get an ebook for Kindle or Kobo.

1 comment:

  1. Woof, you weren't lying about "April". I'll have to set aside a Saturday and binge all of this.