Echoes From the Bear Creek Lending Library #2
by Gabriel Hart, 3.24am Sept 10th 2021
The Librarian now has me working downstairs in the basement, the part of the building originally purposed as a bomb shelter. Since I am not allowed outside, and there are no windows down here, I have no idea how much time I’ve done in the library. Any debts to Bear Creek’s anti-society (wouldn’t that make all its citizens naturally susceptible to ‘anti-social behavior?) should have long been paid off — if not for time served, then surely for my good behavior. To be fair, I haven’t organized one book onto the shelves like I’m supposed to be doing — they sort of just find themselves onto other stacks as I go through them. The books I really dig, I’ve actually stacked on the floor around this round table I now call my sleeping pod, to create a further enclosure. The ones I haven’t liked, I have torn their pages out, taped them together into a thin sheet in which I burrow myself in for some semblance of comfort — though I’d be better off just burning them to keep warm. Let’s see how fuck it I become.
The good news is that relations between The Librarian and I have improved slightly — she now gives me internet privileges every two months, under the guise of “researching/defining genres for categorizing,” but it’s clear I’m using it only for my selfish interests. Like now, where I’m on here because of a dream I had about an author, who I need to determine whether or not she is real. When she appeared in the dream, I asked who she was, she just said “HLR.” I said, “Oh, cool. What are you doing here?” She said, “I have no fucking idea, mate!” and that was it. A quick search on here confirms that not only is this experimental poet from the UK real, but she has a new internet-only chapbook out called Portrait of the Poet as A Hot Mess (Ghost City Press). Dreams can be deceiving with a person’s image; but what’s even stranger: it’s as if HLR is reconstructing/dissecting her physical appearance for me through these extremely specific/explicit sections. The chapbook is not only broken up into FACE/SKIN/ARMS/LEGS/FEET but more internally with BONES which includes TEETH/SKULL and then reminds us how much BRUISES/SCARS are essential tempering to our integrity, the roadmaps of our internal Scorched Earths. HLR is extremely generous with her intimacy here; the way she fearlessly traces her monuments to self-harm and misadventure, redefining the whole concept of “opening up” through these close-ups of wounds in a way that is both clinical and emotionally confrontational: “this is difficult / you’ve never counted them before / you can’t do it / yes you can / okay / breathe/ upper arm: 1 bad stab wound / still red and open, will be your widest scar / crook of elbow: 18 bad ones / forearm: approx. 29 (?) bad ones / you’re sorry, you can’t bear / don’t dare to count them” and now I know for sure that HLR is real as they come.
I hear The Librarian walking down the stairs. I muster the courage to ask her a burning question.
“Hi. Excuse me, but how long have I been here?”
“You’ve been here for three fucking months but how would you even know when you haven’t filed a single book on the shelf?”
“Do we… am I supposed to be measuring time by the books I finish?”
She just stares at me, absently writing in her clipboard. One of these days I’m gonna grab that thing from her to see what she’s really documenting. I bet you anything she’s not actually getting any work done either.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “I’m gonna grab the first book I see and make sure it gets filed away, gotta start somewhere…”
Only, the cover of the book I grab has that brilliant, unmistakable Justin T. Coons art so I don’t dare let it leave my hands. And what’s worse — Human Shaped Fiends by Chandler Morrison is going to be tough to file. Death’s Head Press markets it as a “Splatter-Western,” but Morrison has taken such liberties with the perspective, format, and overall rules of narration, it’s something else entirely. Actually, it’s two things, split and shuffled: 1.) There is the immaculate period piece 1850’s Western narrative in the San Gabriel Valley just outside of pre-erection Los Angeles, a story that boasts Morrison’s range, historical accuracy, and imagination like we’ve never seen before; where he conjures his own Louis L’Amour meets Cormac McCarthy transcendence of beauty and brutality then 2.) since the magician casts the spell, he’s the only one that can break it, which Morrison does to us again and again, when it switches to first person – the Morrison we are most “comfortable” with – in present day Los Angeles, where he furnishes us with a diary of writing the aforementioned Western, exposing a tender avalanche of self-doubt/narcissism, womanizing/existential bloodletting, reluctant socializing, cavalier procrastination, and other insular detours to make sure we know he hasn’t abandoned his “brand.”
Morrison has pressed many buttons in his oeuvre thus far, yet he’s the one who’s strategically placed the triggers, so how could he not? He has been accused of being “pretentious” (even by his own words), yet I will argue that term has lost all its meaning, especially from those who wield it as an insult; what is wrong with having pre-tense? To have grandiose thought behind what you do, to know exactly what you’re doing in order to yield a desired result, even if not everyone is intelligent enough to get it? When this application of vision is shunned, it speaks more to the hypocrisy of the detractors, some of which have given Morrison death-threats for his stylish, smirking work. Without giving anything away, there are some power moves he pulls off in HSF that even defy defiance – it would be a hilarious to witness the pretzel logic his critics would have to testify with against this highly inventive novel. If there was ever any doubt that he is a calculated, self-styled satirist, there should be none after Human-Shaped Fiends. Chandler is here to fuck with us, and we should all be grateful he is working diligently to expand the arena, rather than engaging the tired charade in donning the fatigues of culture warz.
While wholly entertaining, the Morrison novel didn’t exactly cure my suffocation down here, as I’m still left wondering if the Librarian is just going to continue stretching the parameters of my duties so I’ll never leave. Suddenly, I feel nearly at home when I pick up the new Stephen J. Golds novel, next in the stack. I’ve read his other two novels (as well as two of his poetry/short story collections) and I maintain my fandom, even after disregarding boundaries when I used to correspond with him on the Internet every day; though I’d prefer to think the brazen co-dependency was mutual. You can’t be co-dependent by yourself, you know?
With his third novel here, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, the new Dark Prince of Noir has completely outdone himself. Somehow, it’s his bleakest, yet most balanced effort to date — and honestly, I don’t know how this is even possible. Unless we really dissect his theme of “the ballad of the bad guy,” where the most based character is our protagonist. We are forced at gun point to empathize with him. While it is a character study on mental illness, this isn’t some variant of a Joker trope we’ve seen before – the interest-conflicted detective/mob bagman Ben Hughes suffers specifically from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, much like Golds mentions he himself struggles with (his afterword is powerful). So, it’s an extremely lived-in, visceral experience when reading IPWID, an unmistakable first-hand nightmare Golds is clearly using to exorcize some of his own demons. With a noir this dark, it nearly borders on horror – with all of Hughes hallucinations, tormenting thoughts on a loop, and perpetuating cycles of abuse, it could easily eclipse.
But Golds also proves his kind of ailment can be a goddamned gift if harnessed – Golds obsessive attention to detail in his work (especially with his impeccable research) creates such a convincing environment for the reader, it’s really something to behold, to grab onto. Golds often mentions he sees his WIPs playing out like a movie before he writes it, but the difference between Golds and other writers who write in hopes their novel will one day become a Hollywood film: his epics are far ahead of any commercial opportunist instinct, because they actually begin as immersive, visual-triggering works of art. It’s noir that is not only pitch-black, but pitch-perfect.
Which makes me think: since I’ll Pray When I’m Dying is quintessential noir, why don’t I finally begin my categorizing with it? I’ll use it as the first brick in the wall of the Library’s noir section! With a new spring in my step, I take the book, place it on the shelf, take a step back to admire my work. It’s the only book on the shelf, but man, it looks great.
“This is a library, not a bookstore!” she says, marking her clipboard. “We’re not gonna have genre sections, idiot.”
That moment when I double checked my naïve plan had been confined only to my inner dialogue is when I realized The Librarian can read my mind.
I’m so fucked.
There’s got to be some way to escape, some glitch in the original architecture they’ve overlooked or at least some substantial decay in some dark corner; but really, this place is all a dark corner; so dark you never even see the angles meet. What I did find was a copy of Good at Drugs by a new author named KKUURRTT, a novel which is about the best form of escapism I could hope for in this fucking pit. Even his name is fun to say – I say it out loud, annunciating every letter whether I’m supposed to or not.
“THIS IS A GODDAMN LIBRARY!” she says.
I guess I’m not.
But the fact that his name borders on onomatopoeia is already a perfect introduction to this jubilant, wit-wielding drug novel. The premise sounds bad if it’s relayed without care: like, if someone told me it was merely “one man’s enlightening journey through the psychedelic fringes of a music festival,” I would run far, far away from them and this book. But since I am trapped here, I am forced to read and tell you what’s really what. KKUURRTT is an anomaly of the usual festival goer, shunning any kind of expired sub-culture archetype. Instead, he is the timeless and ever-vital thrill-seeker who makes drugs seem fun again.
The thinly veiled character Roland enters the festival as a seasoned expert in chemical endurance. Or so he believes, until he keeps losing track of which bag is the cocaine and which is the ketamine. No matter — it all goes up one of the same nostrils. But a simple artist’s pallet of two drugs extends into an endless buffet of all of the drugs, as the communal experience becomes an overdose of “everything is groovy” hospitality. Nothing another line won’t fix though – even when he faulters into K-Holes and forgets how much acid or mushrooms he’s consumed, the failure is profoundly nightmarish. Yet, he always manages to bounce back, merely bushing the dust off his shoulders and back up his nose.
Good at Drugs is a jubilant romp of gonzo reporting from the edge. Much like Hunter S. Thompson, Roland entrenches himself into every possible scenario in order to live to tell the story, all while jovially satisfying his own base urges. Even beyond the drugs, KKUURRTT reminds us the psychedelia of the festival is inherent even without drugs, the way the laws of averages skyrocket with the large swathes of ground the thrill-seeker is covering. I personally despise large groups of people, especially when they all appear to be having more fun than I — but the magic of Good at Drugs, for me, was the fact that it presented a crowded microcosm of society I felt a little wistful to leave once it was all over.
Maybe I should get out more?
I would if I could.
Even though I’ve got books to pass the time, this library is basically like solitary confinement because the lack of windows makes it impossible to tell whether its day or night. I can’t distinguish whether my fatigue is from eye strain or whether it’s bedtime. But this drowsiness is coming on hard. For all I know, I haven’t slept in days. I crawl under my table, pull the page-blanket over me and… make the huge mistake of giving one more look across the room.
Now I know for sure I’m sleep deprived, because now I’m hallucinating. There, in the distance of pitch black, I swear to God I see an image of the Grim Reaper coming for me, only its outlined in purple. Since I know those with purple auras tend to be highly intuitive, I can only guess this is my time; that the Reaper is finally coming for me. I accept this fate as my only way to escape the library; in a way I’m grateful for it.
So, I get up and begin walking towards him, out of gratitude, to save Death time, or like how the buffalo charge into storms to get the inevitable over with quicker.
I am both depressed and relieved to see it’s not the actual Reaper, but a mere book boasting its unmistakable iconography Still, Soul Collector: The Life of Death as Told by That Nigga Death by DuVay Knox remains an intimidating yet reverent presence. A black book small enough to fit in your ass-pocket yet contains enough big hard-earned wisdom you wouldn’t want to accidentally sit on it; in fact, its moral is: you better watch your ass.
Our boy Sippian has died and gone to Hell; luckily he gets an instant status boost when Mr. Otis – who isn’t exactly the Devil but still has major clout down there – appoints him as the messenger of Death, to give the Earthbound precarious warning they better shape up or he’s gonna ship ‘em out. As he delivers these mortal cautions, Sippian ascends up the ranks as he’s challenged by his own emotional limits, one foot in/one foot out of various spiritual commitments that prove hard to swallow.
Like an urban Dante’s Inferno, Soul Collector is a mind-altering experience, providing occult knowledge through a twisted yet sensible update on the Golden Rule. It cold sweats dread yet Knox makes the concept of Death feel resolute – you can pray all you want, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Yet, he doesn’t dismiss the intention of prayer altogether – just don’t pray for those who have consciously fucked their lives up, and don’t use it as a last-minute emergency; ‘cause you’ll essentially just look like a little bitch instead of exiting with dignity.
One bit of knowledge that Knox imparts that I often ruminate on is the philosophical science behind “live fast/die young.” When we overindulge, we allow a greed taking place which compresses all that euphoria into one selfish moment – pleasure that is supposed to get stretched out through our lives if we learn to feel comfortable within ourselves and around others.
Essentially, it confuses the cosmos when we indulge such addictions – as if it actually speeds up your life expectancy, and before you know it, there’s Death. You quite literally asked for it, so don’t act all surprised.
While often compared to Iceberg Slim, Knox goes one step beyond keeping it real with his street-level text: admirably preserved in his phonetic/Ebonic-style which creates further immersive engagement – I even found myself reading parts out loud to commit to his idiosyncratic flow.
I hear The Librarian’s clipboard slam on a distant table. She marches over, hands on her hips. She knocks down my stack of books, leans her face in.
“Oh, so now I hear you’re mocking black people over here?!? Not in THIS library!” she says, eyes full of hate.
“Uh, no… of course not! I was just, like, reading this…” I almost show her the book, but I’m afraid she’ll snatch it from me. “Nevermind, you wouldn’t understand…” I say, holding the book to my chest in a death grip for safety as I lay back down to sleep.