Dorota Masłowska’s Honey, I Killed the Cats doesn’t read like a novel, but rather a sequence of tabs on an internet browser, each one a minor digression into a deeper chaos. Written in 2012 by one of Poland’s leading young authors, Benjamin Paloff’s lively translation is distinctly 2019, as if constructed solely from a digital-era dictionary.
Taking place in a consumerist dystopia in near-future America, Masłowska’s novella traces the friendship of two women, Joanne and Farah. Farah is unimpressed with Joanne’s new love interest, a bathstore salesmen with a degree in Hungarian studies and a bald spot “concealed obsessively beneath cunning strokes of his hairbrush”. But she’s also jealous, and has dreams plagued by sexual torment.
Plot is secondary to form with Masłowka’s quicksilver prose packaged into an equally zany structure. Periods of dialogue are interrupted by deranged advert headlines such as, “What’s Best for Throwing at a Plasma TV? We Test Champagne Glasses,” or “Look Hot Five Minutes after an Abortion? It’s Possible. Makeup Paramedics”. We are in Wal-Mart and then in Farah’s dreams. We are at an art opening and then in front of a TV’s “rapid stream of illusion”. It feels like we could be in Requiem for a Dream without the drugs. But disorienting the reader is how Masłowka injects humour. When the waiter at Mr. Foods says, “We don’t do Large [nuggets]. We have Huge, Gigantic, and Monstrous,” we don’t realise Masłowska is teasing us.
Masłowska’s biting criticism of pop culture is amusing and heavy-handed: modern art is just shoving a “bunch of basil” up one’s “urinary tract”; nightlife is a crude cacophany of “shouts, squeals, stupid laughter, snapping heals, bottles clinking, champagne corks shooting into the air, coke snorted off toilet lids, and condoms stretched onto members”; Poland is a country in “the Former Yugoslavia. Maybe you’ve heard of it.” Her most skilfully executed images however, are more mundane: “Why are free T-shirts always Larges?”
There are moments where the content overload is a touch suffocating and we wish to free ourselves from the glitched feedback loop. But when we’re reading — or rather toggling between tabs — the dopamine hits come fast and often. Just beware the comedown.