So, sometimes you read poetry, and the poet does surprising things with language. They use nouns, verbs, and direct objects, in something approximating their natural occurrences, but it's entirely unexpected. Leaves of grass
holy crap! the wine-dark sea
perfection! petals on a wet, black bough
how the hell did he just do that to my brain!
In Jagged Little Vein
, Warren Ellis kind of does this, only with the American landscape, and the kind of perversity most people troll the Internet hoping to find. In his America, there are towns called Columbus, Ohio and Las Vegas, NV, there's a president and his chief of staff, cars, strip malls and Walmart. 9/11 happened on September 11, and the normal laws of physics and gravity apply. However, (and this is a big “however,” not my usual bs “however”) everything else is a big, fat, insane, sordid exploration of the American subconscious.
I'm an American, right? (That's not wholly rhetorical.) I'm kind of fascinated by non-Americans musing about this specific, local, continental insanity that is my bone and fiber, my national identity. You can look in the mirror all you want, but you can't see yourself dipping your eyes when you lie. So, here, in this book, the man holding the mirror has been doing ether, ripping up tabs of tabs of LSD and covering his corneas with them, and shooting guns into the desert sky, Hunter S Thompson style.
Nothing that happens is remotely likely or possible, but it has a a strange kind of reality about it, like a velvet Elvis. Our protagonist, a sort of Spider Jerusalem-lite misanthrope PI, gets hired by the President's chief of staff, a functioning heroin addict who shits out hotel rooms for fun, to find the secret Constitution of the US of A, which has magical powers and can make anyone who reads it return to the the founding father's peculiar morality of slave ownership, high minded ideals, and missionary-position sex. I just wrote that sentence, and I have a hard time believing myself.
The book has passed from hand to hand, from one incredibly sick fuck to the next, and Spider Mike (or whatever his name is) goes from town to town looking for the book. He squabbles with his unlikely, newly minted girlfriend, whom he picked up on the streets of New York, while she was musing about Native Americans. (It always starts with First Peoples with this type of thing. Angela Carter, in Saints and Strangers
, her British-style musings on America, writes some spectacularly weird stuff on the subject of Americans and the first Americans. Whatever, I digress.)
I had an incredibly good time in the two hours it took to read it, but if it had gone on much longer, I would have woken up and figured out how totally crazy it was. The girl isn't completely cardboard Barbie, but she's unlikely enough, sexy/perverse enough, to slightly rankle me. Why do the hot chicks always sleep with the tool-protagonist? Here's a description of the hero's body, from another character: "Last time I saw a body like yours it was hanging from a tree on CSI
." Yeah, I'd hit that.
The ending ties up too nicely, the individual episodes read like an Afterschool Special written by Dan Savage, and I'm pretty sure no American can use the words “fuckwit” or “knob” with the confidence of the British, revealing the author as a non-Yank. But there's a kind of poetry in the insanity (I don't necessary mean good
poetry) that is surprising and unusual, and puts all the verbs where the nouns should be.