When I think of Amazon reviews, inﬁnite product coupled with inﬁnite opinion, I think of the reviews by poet and “Hall of Fame Reviewer” Kevin Killian. He’s written on over 2,500 products, including Love Actually on Blu-Ray, children’s books with unicorn protagonists, and German potato salad. Some candid, some ﬁctional, each review displays Killian’s wit, an ability to expose consumer culture absurdities while also espousing genuine love. They’re entertainment unto themselves, though I assume most read Amazon reviews for a more practical purpose: to buy or not to buy? Can these opinions be trusted? Don’t they vent dissatisfaction or praise with ulterior motives? Or do they warn fellow consumers of faulty products? Is there a sense of duty in reviewing? Are Amazon reviews ‘heard’ more than petitions to politicians? As Amazon inches towards online marketplace domination, its reviewers reach quorum on products democratically. What is the best rooftop carrier? The best crowbar? I don’t trust Amazon or companies marketing products, but I trust reviewers, Kevin from San Francisco, Janes and Joes from Albuquerque, Fairfax, Mechanicsburg, to be candid.
Nicolas Mugavero contemplates that candor in Some Instructions For Killing Your Wife, a book of conceptual poetry consisting of Amazon reviews of hammers, crowbars, axes, and baseball bats. Mugavero’s aim seems to be uncovering the violence inherent in these products and those who buy them. With Mugavero’s reframing, the subject becomes not the object of review, but the individuals reviewing. A man who has “worked in construction for my whole life.” A woman who
“bought this for my brother and my husband is JEALOUS! Looks like I will be buying another one of these for my hubby…LOL.”
Sometimes, these reviewers are critical and articulate: “Obviously, Stanley put more thought into the aesthetics of the handle rather than the feel and functionality.”
And often not.
“It is a hammer. Does its job.”
“It’s a hammer.”
“Do not buy this hammer!”
“It’s a GOOD hammer.”
“It’s a hammer. I’ve hammered nails with it for months now.”
Some garner my empathy. One man “used this [crowbar] to take apart a fence that had fallen during hurricane Issac.” Many use the title “Hammer Time,” an affable Dad-joke wittiness common amongst the reviewers. But the reviews turn insidious.
“My buddy calls me one day and asks me to come over and help him take down the shed out behind his house. I got over there, fubar in hand, and I start destroying the thing. There is nothing so satisfying as smashing things up.”
“We produce an event called The Man Expo and in it we have a ‘destruction zone’ where you can go in for about a minute and pound the hell out of a couple of cars.”
The reviews also unsettle with the repetition of product names. “I own this and the shorter version, The Crusher,” or “I had high hopes for the Annihilator” show how violent names sell a product’s effectiveness.
By the time Mugavero presents the baseball bat reviews, these tools are no longer practical or recreational. A review is titled “good for thumping heads.” Another says, “I love this bat, keep it by my door, I like th’ ping it makes, when bounced off a skull.” Joke or not, darkness pervades. These allusions to violence occur next to “MY 7YR OLD LOVES IT” and “perfect for practicing hitting with my son.” A 7-year-old’s t-ball bat is another man’s “Crusher.”
Mugavero portrays this notion of learned violence through consumer products visually in Part II. He shows photographs of black and orange Bear Cat Woodchippers on a white background. With each page, the chippers ominously increase in size: the 3” model to 4.5” to 6” to 9” to 12,” the violence growing, inﬂating.
Yet violence pervades from the start given Mugavero’s title, Some Instructions For Killing Your Wife. Whether he intends the title to read as a dark joke or a judgement on the owners of these tools, it limits the interpretation of a book rich in material. Does the title manipulate the reviewers’ candor to incriminate them? The title darkens a line such as “My wife bought me this [axe] for my birthday,” infusing a well-intentioned gift with a cloud of domestic horror. Not to say these reviews aren’t loaded with violence, but they’re also silly, endearing, incoherent, tedious, and charming, all aspects which the title suppresses.
Read it on Troll Thread: free
Patrick Gaughan is a poet, performer, & critic living in Northampton, MA. He contributes regularly to BOMB. Find other recent work in Sink Review, Diagram, & Jellyfish. He’ll be performing in Ish Klein’s In a Word, Faust at Flying Object this winter. [tumblr] [twitter]