Beggars and Choosers: The Complete Written Correspondence Between Richard Meros and Creative New Zealand – Volume One by Richard Meros
Reviewed by LEAH DURAN
While rejecting author Richard Meros’ first submission detailing the hollow pleasures of the capitalist system, Creative New Zealand employee Nestor Notabilis suggests Meros would be much more likely to get funding if he wrote a love story. Notabilis signs the letter, “Yours.” And thus begins the fictional, anxiety-ridden, two-year relationship between Richard Meros and Creative New Zealand, told through seven failed short story submissions and their related correspondence.
Meros, (or rather the enigma behind the pseudonym) follows on the heels of his successful book-turned-play On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover with this devilishly clever work of satire. Meros plays the suitor to a uninterested Rapunzel, trying out all his wiles in an effort to gain the approval (and funding resources) of CNZ, a national agency that doles out money to produce whatever artistic works it deems worthy of exposure to the wider Aotearoa audience.
Humour on both sides of the exchange is the carrying tone of the book. Mr. Notabilis (whose name is actually the scientific name for the New Zealand parrot the Kea) recommends Meros quit writing and try his hand at marketing salty milk: “It’d be great for all those recipes where sometimes you need both salt and milk…I guess you’d have to sell lightly salted milk so that it can be used for pancakes.” That suggestion follows with a similarly flippant idea: that Meros compose a short story about poppy-toking hippies who are also serial killers.
Meros takes Notabilis’ offhand suggestion to heart, using it as the subject of his next application, titled “Killer Cannibal Hippies in San Pedro la Laguna!” This desperate mockery half portrayed as a serious attempt to woo CNZ makes for entertaining reading.
Other amusing applications such as “The Capital: A Refugee’s Guide to Wellington City,” tackle vitally important issues. According to Meros, if you are a tourist or refugee reading this review right now, you should, at all costs, avoid “Cops without moustaches,” third-party “Street Collectors” of alms for the needy, and “People who live in Newton.” The dangerous characters of “Poetesses” and “Authors and/or writers” precede the category on “Murderers.”
The bent of Meros’ writing is largely philosophical, containing subtle comments on the nature of existence. Meros also can’t resist inserting a fair bit of lilting poetic metaphors and wordplay: “Great Grey Suits! Great Gad Gazooks!” he exults of watching businessmen on city streets. Less successful endeavours include his crack at a graphic novel, which features copied, washed-out photographs instead of hand-drawn pictures, and a feeble attempt to replicate the theme of his play using the similar idea of “On the conditions and possibilities of John Key mistaking me for a Young Terrorist.”
The book takes an intriguing turn when Meros begins to work for the very organization that no doubt caused his character many sleepless nights at the drawing board. During his new job as part of the clerical staff, Meros trades his pen for staplers and photocopiers: “Did you think applications photocopied themselves?” Meros’ employment precludes him from entering applications, which negatively affects his health; thus, stapling faxes may or may not be seen as an improvement over scavenging food scraps from Wishbone trash bags (Meros’ version of the “starving artist” stereotype).
The narrative comes around full-circle, as the introduction is the last submission Meros pens to CNZ. The final piece is reprinted in full once more, possibly to the chagrin of Meros-as-character, who, on the previous pages, laments the cost of producing his 10-page applications: “But instead of writing I have become fixated on the letters you have sent to me: I have followed directions and instructions and have seen less than a cent: do you think the postage is free? And do you think the paper I use grows on trees? I don’t even know where it grows.” Though CNZ and Meros’ relationship is often fraught with heartbreak, it is a joy to watch the progression as it blossoms into this darkly hilarious collection.
Leah Duran is a lover of life, books, poetry, the outdoors, good company, and much more. In the process of acquiring her journalism degree, she splits her time between the woods of Connecticut and the deserts of Arizona.