Bizarro is a genre that allows for my favorite kind of social commentary: on-the-nose. Rainbows Suck by Madeleine Swan represents the strength of the genre: it manages to be funny and thought-provoking in a well, isn’t it obvious what it’s all about kind of way, and in so doing, delivers the sharpest kind of critique of social media, celebrity, and western civilization’s obsession with both.
It’s about a lot of other things, too, including the meaning of art, the self-destructive nature of its pursuit, the line between commercialism and integrity, cultural colonialism, rape, regret, mental health issues, sexuality, and the intersection of too many other serious issues to count. But it works precisely because of the freedom that bizarro fiction offers us: absurdity, literalism, break-neck humor, kaleidoscopic imagery.
If you’re into bizarro, this one is a no-brainer. It’s short, evocative, and doesn’t take itself too seriously about anything. If you need convincing, here’s the gist: our entertainment world (and, it’s implied, more than that, or, more than that because of entertainment’s power over our lives and culture) has been taken over by alien rainbows, who take lonely wannabes and American Idolize them to the nth degree: turning the attention-hungry and the desperate into living works of Art, some grotesque and some beautiful, with most somewhere in-between.
Our protagonist finds herself homeless and without hope, so she takes on indentured servitude as Art in a lesser rainbow entertainment house, where she is forced to act up for attention from the public, lest the button on her lower back cause her pain.
What follows is a drug-fueled love story, and a meditation on the confluence of media/public perception, reality, and internal self-worth. That sounds heady—and it is—but because of Swan’s stream-of-consciousness style and willingness to delve into the gonzo-absurd, such heavy topics are rendered in tasty, bite-sized morsels of gushing rainbow and glitter.