Sunday, October 16, 2005

Complex Messiah

nothing will save you by dean strom*

reviewed by Feargal Mooney

Arab singers start a song with a mawal, a prolonged melodic wail without words, and this book also eases into its song with a preliminary mawal lasting many pages, before settling into an almost conventional narrative. I say almost conventional, because there is very little that is conventional about "nothing will save you" and just when you think you are on solid ground, back comes the mawal and you are floating away again. I am reminded also of the ethereal chants that highlight some songs by The Beatles, namely Lovely Rita and A Day In The Life.

"nothing will save you" is a novella and collection of poems, prose poems and short stories. The eponymous novella, which occupies most of the book, is a road movie, love story, breakdown story, redemption and more, but with every element undermined at all times by its author. The story is full of surprises and jazzy variations on unexpected themes and events. We're never allowed to get too comfortable with characters, some of whom materialise and dissolve and might or might not be emanations of the narrator himself, from the screaming torture chamber of a mind in crisis.

There are evocative and unique scenes from strange sub-cultures, of native American knife-throwing while full of firewater, followed by a native American game of beating the stranger unconscious, robbing and leaving for dead, to some extreme sport that entails running over mountains and frequent injury, rickshaw drivers in New Orleans, police brutality there, gay cruising haunts in Hawaii, and what I suppose we now have to call "the queer eye for the straight guy."

Chi Chi, the narrator of this tale (who shares his name with a Waikiki beach cocktail) stays, on arrival in Honolulu, on a boat with his friend Dean (who shares his name with the author). Chi Chi through the eyes of the cruising gays is a beautiful boy - nobody believes he's straight. In some ways it's like Death in Venice from Tadzio's point of view, but it's Tadzio who's dying. The love story that started on the road, with Jenny, is strung through a sequence of exciting and bizarre events leading to Chi Chi's Honolulu sojourn, heartbreak, series of encounters around the beaches and bars, some sleazy and demoralising, some transcendant.

In the climax of the story, fuelled by alcohol, dope and firearms, the mawal of Chi Chi's inner torment returns as disintegrating prose, increasing entropy of typography, to the point of jumbled letters, and conflicting voices, wanting to speak without saying, through intwining, self-consuming thoughts turning on the impossibility of the genuine, or possibility, whether the art of speaking and writing is in the words, in the fingertips, in the initial, lost thought, until we reach a real and very frightening event.

Chi Chi subsequently wakes to a world of satire, in which redemption takes the form of publication and money, and back on the road, or rather in the air to the promised land, the shining city, and for a page or two you think, he's letting us off, we are heading for resolution, satisfaction, comfort. As if.

*nothing will save you by dean strom
Published by Pretend Genius Press. ISBN: 0974726117


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