I’m not sure what an example of surreal fiction is. When I think of surrealism, I think of painters like Salvador Dali, or filmmakers like Jean Cocteau, or Luis Bunuel. I’m told Jacques Lacan is the man for those following the unconscious. Not sure that’s true. The author Polizzoti writes that Freud and the surrealists were nonplussed by one another, especially Andre Breton, who reportedly met the Viennese physician and was underwhelmed. These writers were poets, stylists of the 20s and 30s, contemporaries of the absurdist Dada movement, and men who reported interest in the unconscious, and went about the task of creating images that simulated dreams. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried a modest and similar tact with Crystal From The Hills, having read some of Lacan and Breton, and then staring at that remarkable painting by Magritte: the one that frame a woman’s naked body within the contours of a feminine hairline. ‘Le Viol’ it’s called: the rape. Simplicity and genius.
Mine is a story that begins dreamily on the streets of Oakland, with an ambiguously aged man holding a sign that reads, “Hungry White Trash” as he panhandles by the side of a freeway. You might get the idea that it’s a joke, but it’s not entirely flippant. In fact, there’s a history to the joke: a serious underpinning. Chris Leavitt has suffered an accident. That’s the pitch, the beginning of the story and the forerunner to a back-story. There will be a few accidents depicted if you read on, as well as deliberate action, malevolent and kind. There is no hero per se, just a hapless everyman riding a string of bad luck, making several wrong decisions, struggling to act like an adult. He’s playing with life. He has a girlfriend, sort of. It’s Jill Evans, ten years before her stints playing support character in Living Without Blood, and almost twelve years before she takes the lead in The Big No. Jill gets around, and here she goes back in time, getting younger, lucky girl. I have a villain of sorts, a guy who’s not around, but who gets talked about a lot. He’s Weed, a drug dealer, video game aficionado, con artist—bad guy. His dark influence is balanced by Sweet, Chris’ other friend, who is even more childlike than Chris, yet affable and easy to have around. He sticks around. There’s an aged yet autocratic aunt—Chris’ only surviving relative, an endearingly caustic woman. Others in the story are lawyers, doctors, police, employers, street thugs, ghostly figures (dubbed “shadows”) that hang around with hallucinatory menace: not all bad people; just people with seeming power and a willingness to use it.
CFTH is a story that concerns itself with many ideas. It’s a quick read, but one that depends on a certain momentum. Not many big words: nothing like “importunate” or “solipsism” in this one. I promise. But it relies on continuity and the experience of ideas, fragments that have been indicated previously in the text. If you read a few pages then put it down for three weeks, then I’m sorry if I bored you. If that’s not the case and you’re just dilatory in your reading habits, then I’m afraid you may miss out. A good read is like good therapy. You don’t go once a month, like it’s a check up. You’re supposed to remember bits and pieces, like it’s embedded in your experience, and just know where you left off—no bookmarks are necessary if it works. There are associations to be made along the way. Don’t look for patterns, just experience the sense of revisiting as you note terms, phrases that appear to get repeated in the novel; themes that seem to link to one another. This is a story about accidents; personal, physical, even sexual, and habitual. It’s a story about rejection: also personal, and also institutional. There is trauma involved, and the problems related to poor memory and dissociation. You might feel what my characters don’t: that’s the point. Chris doesn’t remember much in the beginning, but builds his story along the way, and tells others, and you, what’s happening in his own time, on his own terms. His friend Sweet has an even worse memory than he does, but low and behold, it is he that becomes the chronicler of events in the end; the witness. Trauma victims need witnesses. That’s written somewhere. Above all there is a problem with reality. Characters aren’t sure what’s happening. They lack real perspectives, real goals. They don’t even use their real names. Despite all this, CFTH is actually not a confusing novel; at least, not in this author’s opinion. It’s not all in Chris’ mind: things actually happen.
Bad things happen. Evil lurks, as in any good action movie or pulp mystery novel. Darth Vader types hover, and towering infernos exist. If you read the novel some of these cheeky references will make sense. Meanwhile, like the “shadows” of Chris’ imagination or psychosis, the author and reader are witnesses to all that goes down. CFTH is a novel that may move you, or it may leave you cold, or I suppose—just to cover all bases—it may leave you feeling something (?) in between. Though, I suppose if you’re a Russian huckster or a peddler of dating sites looking to hijack a random blog site, none of this will mean anything to you. My art is an object and you are like rapists to me. Jean Luc Godard said of Weekend that it was like a film discovered on a scrap heap. Lucky scrap heap, I say. Perhaps, like the secrets of my protagonist’s past, CFRH may be found in a box one day: set aside, rejected; an obscure allegory by an obscure writer that aimed for the unconscious.
**photo by Helnwein