“Packs a whole world into 20,000 words” – Shitstorm by Fernando Sdrigotti

‘Brendan O’Neill writes a chronicle for The Contrarian, about a couple on their honeymoon who died in the St Pancras’s blast. The story – which features images of floral arrangements left by family and friends for the dead couple – is a very moving piece in which O’Neill shows his sensitive side while he wonders why the progressive press (italics in the original) can forget so quickly about victims…, why they didn’t pay attention to this working-class pair, dead on the happiest day of their lives? … And then on Friday a blogger from Archway goes viral after news circulates that she’s been making bread from vaginal yeast, selling it on her site. … CUNTDOUGH becomes an internet sensation.’

Are you in a permanent state of standing revolution? But loathed to leave your comfy chair? Is your weapon of choice a 4G-enabled device? Then you’ll know how to ride the maelstrom of online opinion, hot takes and muck-slinging – a ‘shitstorm’: a tech-enabled cocktail of self-flagellation and self-gratification, turning us all into armchair-warriors.

In his novelette, the writer Fernando Sdrigotti pulls us out of the eye of that storm, allowing us for a moment to observe, rather than act. Observe individuals, groups and TV networks coalesce into an amorphous throb of idol rage, moving with predictable – mathematical – stupidity. From Trump to war to peace to the Pope, and then without even a pause for breath, straight on to paedophile priests, ‘Muslim’ grooming gangs, post-secular Leftists and atheism, all before

‘…someone calls someone a luvvie, and someone else calls someone else a gammon or some other charcuterie term, and the message of peace gets diluted, while everyone debates whether processed meat is racist or not.’

Re-tracing the most perfect shitstorms of our blessed epoch, Sdrigotti’s work begins with ‘Cyril the Lion’, beloved of our most beloved (Gervais et al), who was hunted down in the Zimbabwean savannah and killed…by a white dentist from Minnesota. Many will recall the fallout, which within days escalated to death threats, as well as threats of rape against the dentist’s wife and daughter. All before… a terrorist attack. And not one in some faraway ‘-Stan’, but one affecting us. And so the black-hole of rage moved on, now attacking Islam, Islamophobes and Islamophiles. All before… an enterprising lady hit the spotlight for making bread with her own vaginal yeast.

In keeping with the state of mind of shitstorm riders, Sdrigotti’s narrative moves at breath-taking (stomach-turning) speed, before an unexpected – and quite brilliant – change of pace. Without warning, the shutter is pulled down on the spectacle of humanity self-immolating, as the author picks up the story of the hunter. We’re taken to a speculative future, ten or so years hence, with the Minnesotan dentist re-visiting Zimbabwe for the first time since the ‘Cyril affair’ – and back for another hunt.

As a counterweight to what has come before, it’s perfect – the change in tempo, as well as change in focus and style, is beautifully measured. In dropping the (oblique) commentary and humour, Sdrigotti loosens himself as a fiction writer. And the reader, no longer observing the dentist, is now alongside – experiencing the Zimbabwean sunrise, making small-talk with other hunters, failing to differentiate one black face from another. And we’re with him on the hunt itself, one man and one gun, up against the bleached-white sun and the open plain.

Any Cop?: From tracking our frenzied collective rage to an explication of our animal selves, via a meditation on hunting – Shitstorm packs a whole world into 20,000 words. Sdrigotti’s approach, of distancing himself from the events he re-tells, is well-judged. By merely commentating indirectly through humour, he allows the reader to see the horror-show that we’ve become. Demos Kratos: Power to the People. What a fucking stupid idea.

 

Tamim Sadikali

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