Jerry Stahl’s new novel, Bad Sex on Speed, will be perfect for anyone who considers Spun to be an ideal fun date movie. And it should appeal to many Shades of Grey fans – provided they have taken a serious wrong turn and are now transformed into raving crystal meth-addled S & M freaks. Anybody languishing in prison or rehab is sure to appreciate the book’s distinct cultural stylings and highly relevant subject matter. As for the rest of us — well, we just need to keep an open mind… and resist the urge to call the cops.
Consider some of the phrases used to describe this novel: “A savage, careening, hyper-real nightmare… Devastating, hysterical, terrifying… The most demented and dispossessed among us… In the grips and on the fringes… The screaming depths of psychosis…”
That’s straight from the people who want to sell you Bad Sex on Speed. I can’t wait to see what the people who dislike the book are saying. One thing is certain: hardly anyone who reads it will be stuck in the middle, with no strong feeling one way or another. In this regard, Stahl’s fiction is similar to death-metal music or violent exploitation films or hard-core pornography. It’s confrontational. Goes for the jugular. But Stahl is far more intelligent than any of those other polarizing forces. And he’s capable of some of the funniest writing we have seen about deadly serious topics since William Burroughs’s classic Naked Lunch.
Jerry Stahl’s career runs counter to certain cliches about artists who survive addiction. Once straight, so we are told, the artist tends to lose his edge. The creative juices dry up. The work suffers from comfort and conventionality. For Stahl, the opposite is true. When he was addicted to drugs, he was a professional writer in Hollywood, struggling to churn out conventional, hokey TV scripts for “Alf” and “Moonlighting.” Once sober, however, he started producing the weird, transgressive writing that soon made him famous. He followed up his balls-to-the-wall addiction memoir, Permanent Midnight (made into a film starring Ben Stiller), with a series of novels so steeped in bizarre outlaw sensibility that they inspired fellow literary miscreant Anthony Bourdain to come up with the greatest blurb ever: “Jerry Stahl should either get the Pulitzer Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog.”
Stahl’s Pain Killers stands out as a particularly sick journey to the outer limits of post-Holocaust crime literature. The story is about an ex-cop hired to investigate a San Quentin inmate who is suspected of being the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, now a nonagenarian incarcerated under an alias. The whirling freak show of a plot involves genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America’s secret history of collusion with the Nazis. Sure, these themes resonate with some troubling aspects of Cold War history (MK Ultra, for example). But who would have thought this material could be served up as dark comedy? Or even madcap farce?
As for Bad Sex on Speed, I’m not sure if this is a book about crime, or if the book itself is a crime. What I am sure is that it cannot be described in normal reviewerspeak. Completely unhinged, it makes no concession to traditional narrative form, instead preferring a rambling series of deranged voices jabbering tales of terror from deep within the bowels of methamphetamine-ravaged America. It would appear to be a form of contemporary realism, in other words. We have to assume this is what a modern crime novel looks like, when dragged kicking and screaming into our current zeitgeist of rampant drug abuse, pornography, and violence. In this extreme context, unflinching gallows humor may be the most suitable response. Thankfully, Jerry Stahl is happy to oblige.
Posted by BJW Nashe on March 16, 2013
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