ZEROVILLE by steve erickson


his plots have a comic-book-ness to them — if those comic books are the darkest and wildest of early era vertigo’s or have the zaniness of first comics’ AMERICAN FLAGG and BADGER… plots filled with the boyish wish fulfillment of sex and romantic alienation and isolating intelligence, all suffused with a self consciousness and self-regard about said wish fulfillment. ZEROVILLE’s (seemingly) effortless epic goes on and on, doesn’t let up for a moment, up to and including its spine-shivering finish. and vikar is as complete and unique a character as you’ll find.

erickson, who’s been called a science fiction writer excepting the science, takes us from cbgb’s to the whisky, from franco to reagan, from bogart to belmondo–and hits almost too perfectly, too nonchalantly or exactingly fan-boyishly, every cool reference in between.

this is mean to say, but erickson is so good it is a kind of praise: he’s been posing as an artist for so long the pose has become so natural he might in fact be one.

except. he writes his own judgment into the book. vikar and zazie know what art is: “no movie worth hating or loving has a comfort level.” and they know art is at first necessarily ugly–before it can be recognized as sublime: “Once Cassavetes told me about seeing A Place in the Sun when it came out. He hated it so much that he went back and saw it the next day and then every day for a week, until he realized he loved it.” and vikar knows movies are out of time and in all time: “fuck continuity.” …but erickson, while talking the talk, fails to walk it. ZEROVILLE, epic accomplishment and enormously fun read and rebel sexblast that it is, is very comfortable. and continuous. it fails to risk its coolness for terror and transcendence, fails to risk its storytelling for true mindfuck.

that meanly and pettily said, the book is a thrillride which i swallowed whole–in one dreamy day and night–and one which i loved inhabiting and thinking about. a ride i’m more than happy to have taken. erickson is the funnest of the contenders… a beautiful world if we could all fall short in such a hot-shit way.

erickson on ZEROVILLE: from a bookslut inteview:

It took me four months to write Zeroville, which is very unusual, I’ve never written anything even remotely that quick. I had planned to put off writing it for a year until I had a sabbatical from teaching, but the story was coming so fast, so many scenes filled my head, that I knew I better not wait. I almost feel I can’t taken credit for it — it was like the cosmos were saying, Here, you worked hard on all those other ones, so we’re giving you this one. It’s a freebie.

also on experimental fiction:

You know, I hear the word “experiment” and reach for my revolver. I don’t think of myself as an experimental writer. Experimental writing is about the experiment, and experiments per se usually are for their own sake. My interest is in whatever serves the larger story or characters. The numbers in Zeroville were a kind of Godardian conceit and just came to me, in the same way that Kristin “swimming” through Our Ecstatic Days came to me at the moment she goes down through the hole at the bottom of the lake that’s flooded L.A., and that she believes has come to take her small son from her.

find used or find in your nearest library

Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser

heeded a thankfully persistent whisper of walser walser walser and fell hard. i’d heard the gossipy parts: how kafka dug him, how he lived his final years in a madhouse, how he died on a long walk in the snow, how he wrote in a pencilled hand so small that people thought it was a secret code but it wasn’t–it was just very very small.

i’d tried THE ASSISTANT, which is recently translated but earlier walser and could see the charm, but i was prejudiced against how its proto-modern style took too long to move things along (a similar feeling i got from zweig’s BEWARE OF PITY)… and so was wholly unprepared at how JAKOB VON GUNTEN broke me down and hollowed me out. it’s at times so shockingly beautiful i was, despite myself, moved to tears. not tears of empathy for some character caught in a melodramatic clutch–but tears for the friggin beauty of the writing. the dude writes like an angel–wherein modesty is one of the highest virtues, with pure charm, and with a scrambled semantic nonetheless crystal clear, which must be the emblem only of seraphim.

walser writes with the freshness and immediacy of a journal entry, but also with a constant self-consciousness that makes the entry have the permanence and art of a poem. christopher middleton’s translator’s intro is a good brief. here’s coetzee: “In Kafka one also catches echoes of Walser’s prose, with its lucid syntactic layout, its casual juxtapositions of the elevated with the banal, and its eerily convincing logic of paradox.” and elsewhere in the same review coetzee quotes walter benjamin who describes walser’s characters as like those from a fairy tale but after the fairy tale has ended.

[this book is a dream diary of a boys’ school and i kept thinking it was an unintended translation of hui neng’s platform sutra… or, it reminded me of the orphanage scenes in edward dahlberg’s BECAUSE I WAS FLESH… and i heard jakob as the flipside to mush tate’s equally pure sermons that extolled with the hypnotic, “think you’re in school, think you’re much, know you’re living…“]

[also suffering through a very real school’s very hectic end-of-the-year traffic jam, i was all too happy to read about this ideal school (where the teachers are all gone or asleep.)]

o i forgot to mention: it’s very very funny…

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