Christopher Shipman’s book The Movie My Murderer Makes (The Cupboard, 2014) is something between a story and a series of poems that follow a man throughout his life in a series of moments where he is always shadowed by his “murderer.” The murderer has been with him since his first birthday celebration, and this murderer is a mischievous antagonist whose origin and whereabouts we do not know. He manifests as a voice, or vision. The murderer sometimes seems like the man’s alter ego, sometimes like another person in the room whose presence is foreshadowing. The one consistent marker of the murderer is that he encourages the poems’ main persona to do things that will cause him regret; and so, we become sure that the murderer is a manifestation of temptation.
The book makes me feel like I want to know who the murderer is, like I want to point a finger at him, but his identity is too elusive and he’s too clever; this is part of the pleasure and frustration of reading the book. The poem on page 6, for example, is an anecdote where the narrator mentions the death of his first dog Dusty. In it we are not sure if the main persona over-fed the dog with candy under the murderer’s influence or if the dog died of natural causes and the murderer was simply guilting the main persona, but it gives us this clear dissection of positions between the main persona and the murderer.
This murderer becomes a vehicle for exploring the absurdity of human life seen from a distance, and through the murderer we get a humorous and playfully psycho-social understanding of human fear as our basic emotion and motivator (p9 “My prize is being able to know that when a little bit of fear dies, a little bit more is born.”). The book is viscerally engaging and rejects strict linear interpretation. It is social philosophy twisted into short, poetic prose: (p9: “For days he follows me to every class, filming how happy I am…” p10: “when we traded the Playboy back and forth from kid to kid to murderer to kid to kid to kid to murderer to kid to murderer to kid to murderer to kid.” P13: “convince my friends to drive out to Bono Bridge and to tell Scottie to steal his mother’s VCR and all the Disney movies he could find in the drawer under the TV and that we should all throw them on top of the passing train at midnight laughing and laughing and laughing.”).
“What do I do, knowing that I need impulses to live?” seems to be the question the book poses through narrative play, a juxtaposition of the main persona’s perspective and murderer’s influence. Metaphor over line. It is not to say that some lines aren’t poetic, but these are prose poems told through a narrative structure that is caught between an absurdist comedy and a lyric lament. The book is not focused on the intricate weave of push and pull between verb and word, through line and stanza; it is driven by a single metaphor that becomes its transformative power. The metaphor of the murderer becomes a way to look at a life, a past that needs this murderer to make sense of itself, almost as if the main persona must suffer nihilism in the absence of the murderer. In Christopher Shipman’s book, the murderer is the necessary myth-making factor in life, he makes the plot. He is our imagined antagonist and the book reminds us of how we need characters, archetypes and antagonists to have a perspective in the world. I will leave you with the poem 24 on page 17, or a way for you to picture the murderer, your murderer, my murderer:
“I am part of the beach party you waddle past, judging. Your towel drags behind you, eating the sand, like my murderer’s smile. You write this in your heart, like my murderer’s smile. The tide has risen ten feet from our feet, like my murderer’s smile. We are all going to run.”
Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.