You hear the title - Kanye West - Reanimator - and you think, "That is a great title, but I don't know if this is a great idea".
At least, that's what I thought. In a marketplace where literary remixes like Pride And Prejudice And Zombies and Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters have long-since run the "literary remix" joke into the ground, I think a little bit of skepticism is both fair and well-earned. And yet...that title. It's just a word away from Lovecraft's original, but that one little change imbues the entire concept with potential. How do you pass up the opportunity to read such a book, especially if - like me - you're a big fan of both Kanye West and H.P. Lovecraft? It's impossible not to be at least a little curious.
And so it was that I decided to give Joshua Chaplinsky's Kanye West - Reanimator a whirl. I am very glad that I did.
The novella (which runs a brisk 78 pages; I read the thing in one sitting, on a flight from Texas to Florida) retells Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator tale through the prism of Kanye West's storied career. Apparently the novella started out as a casual experiment, with Chaplinsky simply changing all instances of the name "Herbert West" to "Kanye West". That idea snowballed, with Chaplinsky changing further details from the original to better reflect Kanye's actual career, and as the story moves along - from Kanye's time as a student at Chicago State University up through his famous collaboration with Jay-Z on Watch The Throne - Chaplinsky delivers a legitimately bizarre mix of hip-hop history and grotesque Lovecraftian shenanigans.
It's a bit of a tightrope walk, this concept. Sure, it's a funny idea, but can it sustain itself? Somewhat amazingly, it does. Part of that has to do with the novella's length, but most of it has to do with how well Chaplinsky balances the old and the new. The main story beats - which involve West's disastrous attempts to reanimate the dead - are the same, but the details are different (for instance: rather than injecting corpses with a rejuvenating syrum, Kanye hooks audio cables directly into dead bodies and plays tracks he hopes will be "fresh" enough to bring them back to life). More importantly, these updates are often very, very funny (also funny: the asides of the narrator, Kanye's assistant, who slowly comes to realize just how monstrous and thickheaded his partner is).
Because it's such a quick read and the joy of discovery is such a big part of what makes Chaplinsky's novella great, I'm loathe to discuss further plot details. Suffice it to say that Lovecraft's original plot is covered in full, and that Chaplinsky makes it all the way across the tightrope without stumbling. This is an inventive, quirky, occasionally shocking little read (there's one chapter involving Kanye's mother that, well, let's just hope - for Chaplinsky's sake - that Kanye never reads Kanye West - Reanimator), an oddity that I'd consider a must-read for any dyed-in-the-wool Lovecraft fan. Whether or not it'd be a fun read for a non-Lovecraft fan is debatable. That said, it is difficult to imagine someone who's never read Lovecraft being as entertained by the book (mostly I just imagine them being baffled by it), but who knows?
With that small reservation out of the way: I'm giving Kanye West - Reanimator a very strong recommendation. It's silly and gross and weird, and - given the fact that Lovecraft wrote Herbert West - Reanimator as a pseudo-parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - I think that it's an appropriate footnote to Lovecraft's bibliography. With Christmas right around the corner, I can't think of a better stocking stuffer for the Lovecraft fan in your life. Give Kanye West - Reanimator a shot. I promise you it's as good as its title.