Friday, July 17, 2009
Mr. Meeks Camus, Can You?
The opening of Jackson Meeks’ While the Devil Waits finds its nameless narrator contentedly working his spirit crushing job, tucked away in some closet/cubicle and cut off from any kind of human contact, which is just the way he likes it. Not that he hates his co-workers per se, not even that he hates humanity, but he is very, very uncomfortable around people. He is so out of touch with his own species and sends back such a foreign correspondence from his own culture that the reader begins to read puzzling clues into every mundane contact. Who are these people? What do they want from me? Why are they looking at me like that and how can I best become ignored?
His boss interrupts his solitary work and has an awkward conversation with him in which he suggests that our narrator resign his post rather than forcing the company to fire him – all that paperwork. Seems he makes his co-workers as uncomfortable as they make him. He is mortified to think he’s making anyone upset and eventually leaves his job.
He finds himself with time on his hands, a bad thing, we find out. Seems his dislike of disappointing people is strong enough to make him tag along on a fast-food restaurant robbery and y’know shoot some people.
Oops, did I say too much? Not if you know anything about this stuff and I assume you do if you’re reading While the Devil Waits. Yes, the shit goes downhill at this point and just gets STRANGER, which, come to think of it, is the name of another slim book about a social misfit who can never quite seem to find the proper emotional cue card for any occasion including killing someone. Remember that Cure song? Yes, I like The Cure. Fuck you.
What may take you by surprise is just how badly things go and just how they go badly. While the Devil Waits is a streamlined novel that reads like a modern day parallel to, or riff on, The Stranger, both chilling and dispassionately funny in it's depiction of the alienation of the protagonist as he aspires to little more than not causing anyone else any trouble.
The prison segment, (shit, there I go spoiling things again), are particularly satisfying and the final pages, riotously bleak. The climax could spark a fantastically dull debate between those among us of a literati bent, but it successfully straddles the line that New Pulp Press appears to be aiming for between "literary" and "crime" fiction. Like Nate Flexer's Disassembled Man, the goods are delivered for crime readers, but they come through the side door - there are no cool criminals here, no tough guys or crafty grifters to escape with and it's not a traditional thriller with an easily identified goal to achieve or avoid. The prose is sparse and unadorned with the type of post modern fireworks that might make a story like this one a best seller or cult sensation. And thank god. The world has enough self consciously, unreadable "writers' writers" who want to slum in a genre piece and more than enough genre hacks cranking out substance less excursions to find that ever elusive lowest common denominator.
WTDW doesn't take long to read, (it comes mercifully in at under two-hundred pages) and doesn't feel like it took long to write, (the illusion is that it rolled off the author's fingertips in one long night), but it will stay in the back of your mind long enough to make you double take that next awkward encounter you have, wonder what may be lurking beneath the over apologetic veneer of the clerk you dismiss and it will probably whet your appetite for more fiction of this sort. Fucked up.
Again, New Pulp Press is an independent start up and if you'd like to purchase their product, please do so from their website. Rumor has it they'll be launching into classic crime reprints soon. Fingers crossed.