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Jason Rogers and David L. Tamarin, My Love Affair with David Lynch and Peachy Like Nietzsche: Dark Clown Porn Snuff for Terrorists and Gore Fiends (Lulu, 2005)
A split novel? Hey, why not? Musicians have been putting out split albums for years. It's not a split novel, exactly. Rogers' half is a novella, Tamarin's a batch of short stories. But still, it's a split. All that's missing is the long track in the middle where the two bands-- erm, authors-- collaborate. That, however, may be a blessing in disguise.
We start with Rogers' novella My Love Affair with David Lynch. Which would be readable, except that (a) American postmodern avant-garde of this stripe died with Kathy Acker, (b) even Kathy Acker had stopped writing in it for years before she died, and (c) Rogers is not nearly the writer Kathy Acker was. He's not even the writer Bradley Lastname was. (Maybe on a par with Mark Amerika.) Whole pages are here for the sole purpose of filling space. Which would probably be okay, or at least better, if they were blank, or had that stupid "this page intentionally left blank" statement. But no; there is a page and a half early on here entirely filled with the letter s in italic. Bored yet? It gets worse-- every once in a while, Rogers interjects bits about his aims with the novel, how the reader won't understand it, and how it can be original despite the fact that Rogers was inspired by Lynch while writing it. This sort of thing didn't work for Joan Didion thirty years ago in Democracy, and, as Didion's recent National Book Award would seem to convey, Didion's a pretty good writer. Rogers, on the other hand, is not. I can't even find a way to put him in the "amusingly bad" category.
So, having struggled your way through the first half, you get to the work of David L. Tamarin. You are, I assume, hoping that the book will improve and provide you with some amusement, at least, for its rather exorbitant (given its length) cover price.
Tamarin's short stories are of the extreme-horror variety. Which is all well and good. I am a huge fan of extreme horror when it's done well; Edward Lee, Charlee Jacob, and Monica O'Rourke all do extreme horror very, very well, and I love their stuff. The difference between Tamarin and, say, O'Rourke is that O'Rourke understands that in order for a story, even a piece of "flash fiction," to work, there has to be some sort of character development; a story is going to fall flat if the reader doesn't care about the characters. (Amusingly, Rogers mentions this in his novella.) Tamarin, on the other hand, expends absolutely zero energy on building his characters; what few one can find that have any details penned in about them are quite literally generic; all have the same habits (specifically, the same crack habit, which leads to the crack pipe getting too hot to hold, and dropped) and the same mode of speaking. There is no way to tell one protagonist from another in the first-person stories. Which is not terribly surprising, as the voice doesn't change in the third-person stories, either. Tamarin, it seems, is not interested in giving us characters to care about; he's interested in taking cardboard cutouts (and some of the characters are too flimsy to even be called cardboard) and putting them into situations that might shock, offend, or titillate a reader. The problem is that when your characters aren't real, no one cares. Were one of Charlee Jacob's characters to have these things done to them, it would be devastating. (And, quite frankly, I'm somewhat surprised none have by now.) One cannot say the same here; what is supposed to shock, offend, and titillate us bores, or at best amuses for a few seconds.
Tamarin tells us, at least twice, that those reading this book should send him money so he can write full-time. It seems to me the money would be far better spent on a few classes on character development.
I cannot, in fact, come up with a single thing to recommend about this book. It gets half a star because I finished it, but the best thing I can say about it is that, because I picked this year to expose myself to the horror that is Janine Cross' Touched by Venom, this will not be the worst book I read this year. (half)