Category Archives: Great books and writers

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame

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After seven years of holding down the rowdy and fascinating Drunken Odyssey, literature professor, drinker and writer John King, lately of Florida, has released his novel Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame upon the summer reading market. This writer thinks shame like walk of shame, like you’re wasted. It’s a story about a decadent goth band’s journey to get a decent gig that involves reliving the legend of Gilgamesh for this weird-ass superfan in his fortress in Tennessee that must be modeled on Adrian Belew’s house.

King’s site is full of truly interesting and mostly-useful perspectives on literature, including an entire series on Shakespeare films. Also discoverable is a tender longitudinal document of King’s friendship with Orlando’s Nathan Holic. His name is Holic, people! John’s like breh, I’m a holic too, wenn du weisst was ich meine. I can imagine them together, drinking or eating opium or what the hell King does, and discussing the tough choices of writing novellas.

Where Guy Psycho comes in is its connection to King’s noteworthy love of comic books and B movies, documented on the site under “curatory of schlock.” The reader gets a strong sense when reading down Guy Psycho‘s relatively slender spine that the novel, far from being one of those “serious” books, is to be read as a comic-book ride, which is appropriate since Gilgamesh began as the comic book of its day, as did Faust.

Right away this writer liked how the story is about a fictional band, because fictitious music is some of the best (see hatestep). In the front of the book we get the members of the band conveniently listed, followed by the admonition “style is meaning.” Thanks, professor! The book then drops us into a wheel of speeding events that definitely give flashbacks of harried nights on tour, all arranged to a sort of ritual importance that should not be overlooked just because it’s a crappy band on a crappy tour. Did King play punk rock? “Oh, but Beto O’Rourke did. Did you know he can skate too?” Fuck right off.

Early on in the text we get something of Douglas Adams’ ability to render the prose itself scaled to its significance, oscillating within painstaking precision and hyperbolic decadence, though this attenuates as the plot thickens. King writes to write, and his affinity for comic book slapstick backs up against all kinds of cultural signifiers and name-drops disguised as hallucinations. This writer bets that such economy is probably what he was going for in terms of technique in Guy Psycho. What Carl Hiaasen would read like if he weren’t a boring normy.

The text is at turns cleverly satiric, intentionally “psychedelic,” as some commentators have named it, and often claustrophobically jumbled. Without giving anything away, the whole story is in a series of interiors, and there are times when this writer stopped reading to imagine both how all these vistas would render to the naked eye, as well as how stressful some of these leaps of imagination physically would be. Keep in mind that I did Cumberland Cavern once and am still traumatized. Did King squeeze through Cumberland Cavern before he set this son of a bitch somewhere beneath Rock City? I’ll keep my comments to myself.

Besides our mutual love of Tennessee, ziggurats and made-up bands, I noticed that I easily could grab King’s references to ancient literature, but part of me wonders if the lay reader would get some of the characters’/settings’ intentions/functions. My only critique would be for King to slow down and let us feel it, and to let the characters really work things out. There are some feelings expressed inwardly by the guitar player, but by way of late-placed exposition, instead of an opportunity to test Guy’s ego in front of the family, or make an in-your-face parallel to the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu that many readers might need. Or not! Just thinking on the keyboard here.

As Gilgamesh and Guy Psycho run on epic running-gear, I don’t expect Hamsun’s psychological clarity, but I would like to see the band members really come up against each other’s abilities, will and personalities to provide some kind of tension in need of decision. Without it the book only really pinches at the band members’ high-heel-tortured feet, and reads like one of my 2-Strats comics, where the reader is just along for the ride and doesn’t get to touch.

All in all Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame is filled with hilarious visuals, insightful gags and a brief lesson in ancient epic. What Guy has to be ashamed of is up to the reader. Don’t download it, dickieeeeee, buy a copy and then give it as a gift after you read it!

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Son of Amity by Peter Nathaniel Malae

DEAR MALAE: I swear I offered this to a bunch of publications in the straight community but no one wanted it, at least not from me, so here it is on an insignificant blog. I tried! Feel free to use. –N

Peter Nathaniel Malae’s new book Son of Amity begins with themes familiar to his readers: violence, incarceration, cultures tangled and erased by poverty, hatred for the consumer and the less-dedicated, and perhaps the Californian writer’s greatest contribution to twenty-first century literature: an identifiable search for the use of masculinity in our time.

As before, the economy of description is refreshingly socio-economic. Malae’s mission to portray common people brings us undernourished, overfed, jelly-spined poor whites, but also dignified and convincing portraits of men forgotten in prison and in Bush’s Middle-East conflict, and women rejected, imprisoned, by the ignorance in their environments.

But this is no rerun of What We Are: like Jimmy Baca before him, the author’s own evolution since he disappeared into the “Pacific Northwest” makes the reader an attractive offer to evolve according to his characters’ examples. There are three males in this dialect-rendered story. Which is the titular Son of Amity?

Here Malae repurposes his previous characterizations to disarming effect. For a start the writer’s voice, mercifully, is separating from the narrator’s. Malae always demonstrates an ear for specific slang, something that really impresses academics, but in Son of Amity, especially the memories of prison, we finally get to observe what this slang, in its various pressure and quantity, really means between characters.

Central to the three adults’ seemingly-doomed cohabitation is a highly-realistic evolution of characters’ wills and desires, something unfit in What We Are’s immediacy. Starting with revenge for a rape, the characters’ common ground shifts under them as the victim of the violence takes the will to both choose forgiveness and transform the violence into a child: Malietoa to his Samoan uncle, Tophat to his veteran father, the latter crippled by the former.

The use for masculinity is found in a shared faith in family centered around the child Benji, and not in an act or a gesture. The outcast’s longing for a family to serve –and worth serving –in previous work has arrived. As What We Are’s exasperation before an expanded mind rouses similar feelings to Immigrants in Our Own Land, so this meditation on refocused life approaches the glorious beauty of Black Mesa Poems.

Throughout the book, Malae turns his previous work’s conceits against themselves using time and natural renewal: here we hopelessly serve our past even as the future offers us a ride without reservations, in this case the innocent child at the lead. The book’s greatest charm lies in watching the three adults reluctantly choose the boy’s inspiration over their baggage. Who, then, is the Son of Amity? I would argue that it’s the boy, and I propose that the narcissistic masses of this country read this book and follow their own Malietoa, their own Tophat.

Malae never neglects the portraiture of people trying to both live up to the past and make some way of living in the present. Perhaps the clearest symbols of this are Pika’s Samoan umu Thanksgiving turkey at the book’s finale and Michael’s worship of the Vietnam vets. But the conceit and the dignity lies in Sissy’s internal monologue throughout, in which the urban, feminist, progressive reader must coexist with the fact that Sissy’s post-rape decisions come from a need to move forward without any plan.

Highly recommended for those needing an immediate dose of reality.

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New Peter Malae Book, Link about Technique

Malae has a new book! Just ordered it from Better World Books cause I’m a liberal do-gooder nonprofit chump. In a bouncy singsong I repeat to myself: “Can’t wait to fucking read it…”

For you simpering simpletons don’t know Malae, I recommend starting with What We Are and then joining us on the ride for Son of Amity, which just came out this month. Be the first on your block to read it!

What We Are, besides being the Sanjoseest-ass book ever written, is a tight piece of prose from the point of view of a man who grasps his own masculinity and desperately wants to put it to use in service of his family and community, but can’t, and so jacks it off with dumb violence and relationship-ruining. Along the way the author makes some hilarious satires of Silicon Valley, of which we can never do enough.

To the end of reading, appreciating and contextualizing Malae, I’ll just leave this essay here from when What We Are came out, in which Fiction Advocate weighs the whys and wherefores of how Malae and Junot Díaz use so-called ‘high and low’ language juxtaposition (hello —deja el show. Have you read Dos Passos, pendejos?) but the latter gets a Pulitzer for it in Óscar Wao. As a huge fan of Óscar Wao myself, particularly Achy Obejas’ fucking killer Spanish translation, and as someone who also put down the last page of What We Are and wondered how the hell this didn’t get any awards, I’m only too interested in continuing the argument begun in the article. Not to encourage it, but the comment string is pretty salacious too. Read, read and argue away!

Lit Crawling with Bentboybooks

At the lovely, dearest Green Arcade in the “hub” of San Francisco we encountered this store-exclusive Lit Crawling from Bentboybooks, a tiny publisher of whom we are, as usual, the shit-last to learn.

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Funny enough this October 2017 zine, besides being exclusive to Green Arcade, is not listed on Bentboybooks’ website. Turns out to be a survey of their recent zines.

The collection of mostly poetry begins with an anthology, complete with CV beginning in 1972, of Jan Johnson Drantell, whose work evidently has been rediscovered and put into the zine. Her poems could be called provocative: her voice earnestly and compassionately pushes against the ideas and word-bunches of her time, beginning in the Vietnam era. I really can’t pick a favorite poem, they are all so precise and on-point.

Then comes Pam Martin, who is quite joycean, and I’m a sucker for anything joycean that pulls it off, so I’m in. She’s apparently a big deal in the local art-organizing scene, and I mean the upper echelons, the museums and so forth.

Drew Cushing closes the collection out, and he seems to be the ringleader of Bentboybooks. His selections have a lot of political allusions that will have to remain over my head until sometime after I finish this zine review.

I’m finally excited to say that the book turned me on (ha ha) to the devotedly naked Ronald Palmer, whose books I will be investigating soon. Apparently he’s complex, capable and raunchy, so I’m looking forward to it. His story Manikin is very San Francisco-completist, lots of locations named, five-Os bleaching sidewalks. He’s always naked in his promotional photos, so it’s got to be good.

Check out Bentboybooks every time you spot one!

Eugenio Negro’s Desk

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Love my desk! As you can see there’s no computer on it, which is partially why I use my desk not nearly enough. Can you spot…???

  1. guitar picks I found on the N-Judah
  2. Peter Malae’s What We Are
  3. Checkbook
  4. Guitar string packet
  5. Jar of pine cones
  6. Santa Theresa County Park map
  7. Jimi Hendrix stamps
  8. Kevin Tucker’s Black and Green Review #4
  9. Tube of red acrylic paint from who knows where
  10. Quart of High Life
  11. All the paper notes for my next novel
  12. Boessenecker’s Bandido
  13. Washboard
  14. Glass guitar slide
  15. Ruler I never fucking use

After Reading Jimmy Baca’s Black Mesa

Now this is poetry, people. I should have this on regular rotation on my nightstand. And more Heine, too, I suppose. Few poets’ language really speaks to me, and Baca’s has always gone straight to the heart.

As part of the Progressive Asshole Tax, there ought to be a Form JB1: whether you’ve read some Jimmy Baca this year. Would read approximately as follows:

If YES, thanks for filing this form. Please itemize the poems from this year in the space below and return; notice will be filed that no further action is required.

If NO, one percent up on your taxes, jueputa!

If WHO’S JIMMY BACA?, two percent up on your taxes, asshole!

Thanks to computers, failure to show progress could be set to automatically interfere with car registration, smog certification, credit rating, passport, probation status, whatever it god damn takes to get people to spend some time with this stuff.

 

Shiticide Slaughter Troops

You are here to learn the theory and practice of Shiticide. Boys will be organized into Shiticide Slaughter Troops … We’re not fighting for a scrap of sharecropper immortality with the strings hanging off it like Mafioso spaghetti. We want the whole tamale. The Johnsons are taking over the Western Lands … And we are not applying in triplicate to the Immortality Control Board. Anybody gets in our way we will get our communal back against a rock or a tree and fight the way a raccoon will fight a fucking dog.

–WS Burroughs,

The Place of Dead Roads