What is the next great American Novel? The answer is Sanction by Roman McClay

My friend Roman McClay has written the next great American Novel.

This is not something I say lightly and I’m not even sure I want to qualify myself in making such a statement (even though I could).

And because I know the man you’re going to think I’m biased (which I am).

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Well, that’s not exactly right… I am possibly wrong as well.

Or, should I say, probably wrong.

Which is something I learned from reading Sanction:

… while it’s true that the smart people are often wrong, the average person is nearly always wrong. … The average person is technically more often right, but only because they don’t think for themselves at all; if they did they’d be wrong more.”

Sanction I, Roman McClay, p.8

Perhaps, I’m just an unreliable reviewer.

Whatever the case, I started reading Sanction a year ago and I still haven’t finished.

It’s a goddam crazy, confusing behemoth of a book… at 793 pages it’s thicker than a ream of paper.

It’s as thick as the Bible.

Possibly thicker.

And that’s just part one. You see… this is just one third of the novel.

I’m worried about the environmental impact of this book.

It’s being released in three parts, but it’s actually just one novel.

I’m not sure that’s really allowed, but Amazon won’t print anything larger than 793 pages.

Or something like that.

The author is a mad genius… a bodhisattva mountain-man shaman, the descendent of Scottish immigrants ejected from their own lands, who lives in a modern-day hermitage – a container home home he built with bare hands and plasma cutter in the mountains of [REDACTED] in the United States.

And the maniac that he is, he wrote, or rather transcribed, the 1.2 million words of his magnum opus in one single cigar, whisky and wild-venison fuelled 10-month writing binge.

In order to pull that off, he woke up everyday and and wrote until he collapsed.

For pretty much a year.

Insane, right? Yes, insane.

But why?

Let’s just say that he had a fierce desire to channel his anger and rage at the injustices of his life and pain into something “pro-social” as opposed to… well, you should read the book to find out.

As an aside, Roman McClay is the only person I know apart from prison and probation officers (around whom I have spent a decent amount of time due to my work in education) to use the word “pro-social” as art of his every day vocabulary.

And as a further aside, by the way, his overall vocabulary is also insane. I’ve never met anyone with a vocabulary like Roman’s.

Most people have an active vocabulary of about 2 to 5000 words. Roman’s is more like 10x this.

As a self-confessed vocabulary geek, it’s unusual to find someone writing (and even speaking) now with such a large vocabulary.

Unless, of course, they were an AI.

Another remarkable, and related, thing is that he knows how to write an incredibly long sentence, which is also something that I admire even though – most of the time – I self-consciously try to write much shorter sentences myself (these days anyway) most of the time; even though, most of the time, I struggle to use semi colons, which Roman wields with impunity.

Recently, I wrote a guest piece on creativity for another friend called How to Become Savagely Creative where I listed a set of qualities which have been percolating in my mind like a cold-brewed coffee for over a year, and that I think you need to accept if you want to become a better a version of yourself.

And the author (as opposed to The Author) of Sanction, although I’m tempted to capitalise both, embodies these.

These are qualities, or rather principles or even actions, that I see as necessary if you want to become a better version of yourself and become stronger both mentally and physically.

They are as follows:

  • Embrace the Way of the Craftsman
  • Connect your head and your hands
  • Make things with your bare hands
  • Learn new skills
  • Reboot old skills
  • Not forsake the old tools of creativity
  • Steal ideas (like an artist)
  • Practice idea sex
  • Take risks

You can read my article if you want further elaboration (with much shorter sentences and less parentheses) on what these mean, but the point of listing them here is that while I’m just starting out on this journey of reinvention and discovery, Roman – who is roughly the same age as me – has been living this for a while.

But if there is one artefact that embodies the ethic of creative savagery it’s this damn novel of his – Sanction.

Aside from seeing a great example of what truly savage creative craftsmanship looks like, reading Sanction will inspire you – as it has inspired me and others – to be more creative.

And that’s a long-winded way of saying that I couldn’t get past the first few chapters without seizing the bull by the balls.

The result for me was this collaboration.

And this one.

and then this one as well.

And none of this, by the way, is not to say that you’ll actually like or not the story.

You don’t have to like it for it it to do its work on you, but I make no guarantees.

And neither does the author. In fact, he would be the first one to tell you that you probably shouldn’t buy it.

I still can’t figure out whether this is genuine, or genuinely clever anti-marketing marketing.

I wouldn’t put it past him.

He’s too damn smart.

But that hasn’t stopped a couple of thousand other maniacs of a very specific class and type from buying it and posting crazy messages to each other on Twitter.

It also hasn’t stopped all manner of weird and wonderful reviews on Amazon, which you should read if you’re at all curious.

The reviews usually start something like this: “Let’s start with a warning…” or “this is not a book to read if you are easily offended, close minded or [fill in the blank]”

But I had better stop there.

Or I won’t be able to stop writing and I’ll have to go and live on a mountain top with a container full of tools and ammo and machines and books and…

Nevermind.

Sanction is literature and I mean what I said at the start.

Your kids will be studying this at university in 20 years (mine won’t because they’ll all be living in container-house communes in the mountains).

Anyway, just buy the damn book and see what it does to you.

But be warned, you may have to face your own inner beast.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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