There is a certain kind of book that a certain kind of young author always seems to want to write. It is a kind of book in which form is valued over content, or perhaps more exactly, in which the form of the book is its only real content…. In which the formal structures of the book’s narrative connections, its lacunae and temporal contortions, take the place of good old friendly plot and characterization, emotional insight and description. Instead of a story that the reader can dive into, such books offer only the shining surface of the prose, an impenetrable and self-sufficient skein of words. (Beckett and Joyce are being among the successful examples of authors who have employed this device; the less successful ones, usually, are thankfully forgotten – think, perhaps, Kenneth Patchen.)
Typically young authors decide to write books of this sort because either 1) they want to be revolutionary and think that Plot Is Dead or at least that Plot Is Trite – or, B) they’re just too lazy to sort out the details of a narrative and do the hard, often banal, seldom revolutionary work of coming up with characters that a reader can identify with and a storyline that keeps the pages turning and all that rot.
(As a disclaimer, I ought to mention that I was one such young author once. I won’t bore you with the details of what my style-driven treatise was about, but rather mention this only to make clear that I am familiar with the allure of the genre.)
The problem, of course, is that style-driven prose is very, very hard to write well. Since such books depend upon the deftness of their glittering surfaces to hold our attention and function as works of literature, only masters of language and of the beautiful sentence can pull this trick off.
Elizabeth Must Die, a “hacker noir” text by first-time author Jeremy Needle, strives to be such a work. The book is narrated by a disaffected teen former drug-addict who is confined to a surreal mental hospital, tells the story of this narrator as he (or maybe she) wanders through a Naked Lunch-esque world of nightclubs, angst, and teen relationships, and stumbles into in a bizarre mystery of corporate embezzlement that cumulates in an inexplicable murder. If this sounds a little incoherent, that’s because it is: intentionally, the author would have us believe. The back flap of the books tells us that:
this debut novel of hacker-noir follows the narrator through the underbelly of L.A., where all paranoid conspiracies become and replace reality. In the seeming inconsistencies and incoherencies that develop, we come to question the nature of artificial intelligence, organic identity, & memory itself.
Paragraphs like this one represent the more readable parts of Elizabeth Must Die: other portions of the book devolve into pages of random characters, ones and zeros, garbled hacker-speak and angst-ridden high school poetry. As a result, although one may admire Mr. Needle’s ambition and failure to be swayed by the conventions of mainstream literature, it is difficult to admire anything about the substance of this book itself.
Mr. Needle’s book is available for purchase at Amazon.com.
About the author:
Matthew Flaming is affordable, biodegradable, non-toxic in most applications, and comes in a variety of convenient flavors and packages including new Literary Purple. More information can be found at www.matthewflaming.com.