Saturday, June 01, 2013

Naked Lunch

Having occasionally shared neighborhoods with junkies, I have always been amazed by how thoroughly uninteresting their lives are. This book confirms my view. It works really hard to make lives of junkies literary interesting, but fails since the material that the author works with is intrinsically dull. One cannot but help shedding a tear for all the trees that has been wasted making this all too thick book.

I  know what you're thinking. "Who's this square that doesn't like Naked Lunch? Must be some kinda conservative nutjob not to like this amazing piece of counter-culture artwork!"

Hey, I get it. You're edgy. Go you. Yes, shocking images of sex and drug use and pedophilia and cannibalism and stickin' it to the man, man. Just leave this where your parents will find it and you know you'll earn cool points with the cats back at school. Leave it on your coffee table while your friends come over and you know you'll get to share some good stories while passin' the bong around, man. I'm sure you're stoked about that.

Sorry, but I hated this book for reasons that differ from why your parents hated it:

1) "Edgy" doesn't sell with me. Maybe in 1959, when this book was first published, this stuff was cutting edge. Maybe it's still cutting edge in the sheltered suburbs of America. But anyone who's been on the internet as long as I have and has long ago found the dark corners has already seen and read far more edgy stuff than what's in this book. You want edgy? I can direct you to some websites that will make Naked Lunch look like a book for 3rd graders.  It's 2013.

2) It's not a good or enjoyable book if the "edgy" thing doesn't catch you. The stories, if you can call them that, are disjointed, often lack internal cohesion even from one page to the next within the same story and just aren't remotely interesting narratives. I get the idea that we are supposed to be taking a wild ride through the drug addled brain of the author but if you've read a quarter of the book, you've read the whole thing -- it's nothing but more and more of the same nonsensical pseudo-stories. By a quarter of the way in I was like, "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Drugs messed you up. Let's get on with it." And he never got on with it. Just story after story of cheap "shocker" material that's probably excellent and revealing if you feel like an overly sheltered artist waiting to break out of his protective shell.

For the unsheltered generations, the book is a bore, at best. Maybe it's interesting discussion material regarding the repressed generations of decades gone by, who really had their socks knocked off by what was in this book. Maybe it's interesting discussion material about how some people will like just about anything if they think it makes them look "edgy" in the eyes of their peers. Maybe it's a good book for convincing your kids to stay off drugs, especially if they want to ever become coherent writers.

Although I could appreciate the dark, twisted, imaginative imagery, there was just no real story to speak of. There were hints of satire here and there, but then the prose would just descend into an incoherent mess. I can only recommend this book as a cautionary tale about the nightmarish, horrifying, delusional state that being a heroin junkie must put you in.

"a collection of 3-page surreal vignettes readable in any order." A secondary caveat would be that a lot of the language he uses seems to have inside references -- think of your group of junior high friends and the words you made up with each other.

As far as the language goes, it seems to be a mix of now-dated street slang, Clockwork Orangesque made-up slang, dashed with a few $10 words here and there.

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