Re-imagining Albert Camus’ The Stranger for this point in time is ambitious, to say the least. Then again, when you consider the dizzying diversity of Michael J. Seidlinger’s thus far, the ambition makes sense. The progression from The Fun We’ve Had, The Face of Any Other, or The Laughter of Strangers to The Strangest is perfectly logical. Seidlinger has built his reputation and library on individuals struggling to maintain their grip on their surroundings. He has dealt considerable authority and insight to the subject of humanity’s constant efforts to compromise, without actually making it seem as though that is actually happening.
In other words, if you are familiar with Seidlinger’s work, then taking on ideology of someone like Albert Camus just makes sense.
The Strangest might be Seidlinger’s most deceptive work to date. That’s not a bad thing by any means. It’s just that when you start to read the book, you suspect that you are heading out into something that is comical, casual. While The Strangest does most certainly showcase Seidlinger’s usual surrealist humor chops, it goes well beyond simply being clever. What it does instead is take one work that tried to understand the state of the human being in the rapid, chaotic world of the 20th century, and apply its foundation to the current state of the game. Camus never imagined social media, for one thing. Seidlinger loves satire so understated, so subversive, you almost mistake it for journalism. That is extraordinary unto itself. The best things about The Strangest is how it blends (intentional) bland dystopia with a shade of science fiction that just barely qualifies as such. It does this with a slight sense of humor, because the alternative to that is to choke on absolute despair about where we stand as a culture, and where we are probably going to wind up.
That doesn’t mean The Strangest condemns modern times. Instead, it functions as a talking point. It tries to simply make sense of where we are in the present. Once again, we find ourselves paying attention to Seidlinger’s thoughts on the subject of humanity’s efforts to compromise without compromising. Of course, this is completely impossible. There is a twisted humor that can be applied to that thought. There is something very tragic in looking at the characters that populate The Strangest, and finding something slightly funny about it all. Again, it’s a choice between going this route, and just giving in to depression. Seidlinger takes things like our current relationship with social media to the extreme. It’s hard to imagine someone delving this deeply into these subjects, and coming out of it with an optimistic outlook on the world at large. The Strangest doesn’t deal in hope by any means. Nonetheless, it does suggest that things are simply what they are. You can either ignore the way things are going, and entertain a completely different creature of delusion, or you can try to find your own existence amongst the ruins of everything you once knew. Seidlinger seems to be committed to the second choice. He is writing works that are chilling in their depiction of the twenty-first century. He is also a clear indication of how times change, but the great commentators continue to emerge and speak.