The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker
by Michael du Plessis
Les Figues Press, 2012
103 pages / $15.00 buy from Les Figues Press
1. I have only read one true-crime novel or account or whatever they’re called within the genre–if you count Peter Sotos as a true crime author (why would you?) I guess this is a false statement–a book on JonBenet, and it was sort of astounding and blew my mind. I know most of these true crime books are about two steps away from conspiracy theorists & 9/11 truthers, but ultimately the way evidence is presented, if not actual evidence, creates a new world of fiction that is both troubling and astounding.
2. And as such I’ve had a JonBenet obsession ever since. There’s a gross collaboration going on within the recounting of the JonBenet narrative: the young white princess of middle america challenged by a vicious S/M monster snuff ring kiddie porn mystery. And perhaps the perpetrator was her parents? It’s like the pool party at the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas; this is the true avant-garde of American letters, the fuckTness of the popular zeitgeist.
3. Then there’s Kathy Acker, who I want to haunt me like the sun does, and she does sometimes, and she surrounds the air of the people I eat dinner with here in San Francisco.
4. Kathy Acker is a force invented by both fiction and second-hand statements that act as a guide when the bullshit becomes too much.
5. Have I mentioned there is also a chapter where JonBenet as Kathy Acker (or the other way around) is O from Story of O (which retains such a more beautiful sounding title en francais, Histoire D’O) and Rene is nowhere to be found and certainly NOT Little Lord Fauntelroy but rather Boulder is Roissy somehow and the carpet is all similar and the entire facade crumbles under the watchful eyes of O I mean JonBenet I mean Kathy Acker I mean Michael Du Plessis.
6. Right now, while writing this, I am hungry and want to go make myself a sandwich but I’m trying to stave off the hunger until this is finished because JonBenet is a doll and a doll is not real and dolls do not have to eat to sustain themselves and TO BE REAL IS THE WORST.
7. Nothing in this novel moves in a linear fashion. Events happen and then other events happen but there is certainly not any discernible narrative arc unless you literally construct one out of “your ass” which, I suppose, is possible, but ultimately not within the diegesis of the novel itself.
8. Of course what I mean by the above point is that within this realm of circumstantial ‘realism’ that may or may not be what the point of contention on this blog even is lately, it’s ultimately futile when you realize that modernity is over (jesus christ get over it) and we are all so post-grand-narrative that the way things move is LIKE THIS, okay? Yesterday I went to work I ate a pretzel I took like three shits I sat on some stairs I read a Franck André Jammes book I took the BART to my boyfriend’s house and then I passed out without having sex because I was feeling exhausted HI THIS IS HOW NARRATIVE WORKS IN REAL LIFE, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS REALISM SHIT.
9. It’s like the way narrative works in this book is how Kathy Acker understood narrative which means, both, that Du Plessis understands Acker and that both Acker and Du Plessis understand narrative.
10. What I mean by this is the movement in this book is gorgeous but stilted which makes it even more beautiful. Why are we reading?
11. A chapter that I love because it first made me want to laugh out loud and then riled me up in agreement and then made me realize that whoever was speaking was just making shit up as they went along (but then again that’s what I’m doing right now) is the chapter where Kathy Acker (possibly a Kathy Acker doll, probably not JonBenet as Kathy Acker or Kathy Acker as JonBenet) delivers a lecture at a Boulder university about how Stephen King is every Straight White Male Author–including the untouchable DFW–and how he has done nothing but try to ruin everything, welcome to hell, Boulder is everywhere, Boulder is terrible.
12. Isn’t Boulder like one of the few universities in the country that has a creative writing PhD program? I wonder if Du Plessis was in it, I wonder if his former professors and co-students have read this novel. My guess is probably not to the final question just posited.
13. The most brilliant point in the novel, I think, comes in the second to last chapter of the novel, when Du Plessis collapses into his own narrative and breaks the diegesis, and after finally admitting to himself that this text is “an overblown break-up novel about Boulder that uses [JonBenet] as a metaphor.” The novel itself breaks down into a paratactical simultaneity, it’s like parallel universe shit, when the real is brought up:
Oh, instead of this, the fiction of false endings! Fiction is always false endings: the royal messenger shows up just in time, flourishing a pardon, and you’re off the gallows. Carrie reaches up from hell, from her grave, and drags you in, only you wake up, eyes agape, gasping and gawking into the camera. O and René are reunited. The carpet slinks out of Boulder, defeated. Tiffany doesn’t die of Ecstasy. Little Lord Fauntleroy loves JonBenet all the more because she doesn’t love herself. Why, even John and I get back together again, all is forgotten to begin anew, and this book is never written. JonBenet, moppet, adorable, precious, stays a living doll forever.
14. The above strikes me both as really beautiful and heavy because what are we all doing other than fooling ourselves when we try to escape the real by writing fiction and then some of us decide we want to put ourselves inside of this shell called ‘realism’ so we have to heighten the artifice to achieve that because there is no meta-text in realism but then we forget what we’re doing and suddenly we’re animating dead-murdered-child-beauty-pageant-contestants as dolls who save up their pennies to go to the mall and buy a Kathy Acker doll and all the costumes made specifically for the doll (which are of course sold separately because this is Boulder is America is Capitalism).
15. I will break my own diegetic review world in order to go eat a sandwich now, perhaps upon my return we can treat the final 9 points I have to make as a count-down to a world where bullshit arguments don’t happen on lit blogs.
16. I accidentally just took like a two hour lunch break from writing this review, though I’m not really sure what happened because all I ate was 1/3rd of a pita with some hummus and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Most normal people would presuppose that that is “too many carbs” for one meal but whatever you can do whatever you want in life.
17. Whenever I’m writing a book review I keep a copy of the book in proximity to my laptop but, in all reality, rarely actually look at the book unless I want to specifically quote something which, perhaps, isn’t that often, but I generally resort to when I know I need to “bulk up” the review a bit with more content.
18. My copy of THE MEMOIRS OF JONBENET BY KATHY ACKER by Michael Du Plessis is sitting next to my laptop on my bed right now. I’m horizontal on the bed, because I’ve been exhaustedly running myself ragged lately and can’t deal with the idea of sitting up.
19. I know and generally insist that it is a moot point whether or not a reviewer ‘liked’ or ‘disliked’ whatever text (non-medium specific of course) she is reviewing, but because of how much I liked this book I want to point out that it’s one of those fun examples of what is, actually, experimental literature but ALSO STILL really fun and you wouldn’t really know it’s experimental literature unless you thought about it afterward, it’s so far away from those far-too-serious White Men in Academia (the ironic point is that Du Plessis is a man in academia, is he a White Man in Academia? he seems to not be straight at least), it’s kind of like how all of the novels from the New Narrative movement work out. This is the movement Kathy Acker was associated with. Bob Gluck made brilliantly delicious lattkes with some homemade mayonnaise reduction sauce-thing (maybe, I don’t know the name for a lot of the shit I’ve been eating lately because I’ve only lived in San Francisco for a little over a year and the foodie culture is just finally seeping into me), and then, possibly on my urging because I am prone to doing as such, Kathy Acker came up and I asked him which book she repeats a paragraph three times in. He couldn’t remember for sure but assumed it was an earlier novel.
20. I am curious to read more books by Du Plessis because I enjoyed this one quite a bit, though I have to admit that I was kind of sad to read in the bio, professed at the end of the book, that he currently teaches comp lit at a university because the myopic entropy of academia scares me even though I know it’s pointless to write about this fear on lit blogs any more because everyone needs to make money somehow and who am I to tell people how they should or shouldn’t make money.
21. I mean ultimately this is a note I should take to heart because I struggle with having enough money to buy food or a bus pass or to pay my rent pretty regularly so maybe the myopic entropy holds more to it than disappointment.
22. I’d like to apologize to anybody reading this review who is actually interested in the book for the last 5 points, but I’m not going to remove them because I feel like they’re important.
23. Lovecraft is also a character, sort of, in this book, even though Boulder is not in Rhode Island. Lovecraft is effeminate and his racism is erased in favor of questing for the fagginess that Kathy loves, and JonBenet loves, and Du Plessis clearly loves, which I love. There are some Eldritch tone pitches and pastiches throughout, I think this novel might sort of be a horror novel but the only thing that’s terrifying is the Boulder of middle america.
24. Reading this book kind of made me think that Boulder is similar to San Francisco in terms of some of the terrible parts of its main demographics but then again California is about 1200x better than Colorado in my humble experiences.
25. If someone were to insist on a thesis, one that I would have to deliver, I would suggest it at this: “Read this book.” Sorry, I’m terrible at ending things, but it’s okay because I’m unfortunately REAL and to be REAL means that there are no grand narratives and really we won’t be present for the end.