by Juliet Escoria
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014
144 pages / $13.95 buy from Amazon
1. For some reason, I find this book really blackly funny sometimes. Maybe this is a strange reaction, I don’t know. More on this later.
2. Some of it is a bit like those bits in Breaking Bad where Jesse ‘falls of the wagon’ and goes back to taking drug and his house reflects it. I thought those bits in Breaking Bad were ok so this is a compliment.
3. This makes me think about something that may be culturally different between drug cultures in the US and drug cultures in the UK. In the UK, apart from in the eyes of the tabloid media, the law, etc., pretty much all drugs such as amphetamines, MDMA, weed, coke, acid, even, are all pretty much seen as sort of fairly clean-living party drugs and only heroin and, probably, crack are sites of visceral misery-literature style affairs, sites of crack-dens, heroin hangouts etc. The party drugs are just fine and clean-living things to anyone initiated into them with no sort of self-hatred or self-development or depression surrounding them necessarily because that’s reserved just for heroin and crack alone in the UK. This is my experience anyway but maybe everyone else in the UK would disagree. It just makes me wonder about the cultural differences as far as drugs are concerned and this book is a great example of that. Why not be honest about a common drug culture in US literature as this book and most Alt-Lit does, it screws up all those ‘wholesome’ Christian-Right bullshit images of religious-corporate America so that’s a good thing.
4. A point related to this. 12-step therapy seems different here in the UK compared to the US but also pretty similar. I like to feel these cultural differences.
5. Points 3 and 4 are maybe a thing for Alt-Lit more generally rather just this book but this book does do a good job of exemplifying something that I’ve been trying (and probably failing to articulate) and how wrong I was. More on this later.
6. “Therapists have looked at me, their eyes pleadingly wet and round, and said that growing up in a household like mine must have not felt that strange because it was all I knew. I can’t say this was true for me, not quite, because I do remember the pliancy of things, how nothing ever felt like it was happening at the right time or would stay standing up”. This is one of my favourite lines in the book because it’s also happened to me, as I grew up in a similar situation as the character in this story/author (the membrane is thin in this book, I’m guessing) and it feels true and I know it to be true and what more can you want sometimes from fiction if not some kind of truth?
7. The films that accompany this book are fucking ace by the way. Search them out on Vimeo. They’re some of the best films I’ve seen accompanying a book. I like films that accompany books. These are quite Lynchian at times and other times like a Kate Bush video somehow.
8. “Then my mother took me across the hall, closed the door, turned on the record player, Jane’s Addiction (I still hate that band)…” This is my second favourite, no my equal favourite, line in the book (from the same story – maybe I’m biased, maybe it’s why I said I found quite a bit of this blackly funny?) again because it is so true. I must be older than Julia because mine was Bob Dylan and Neil Young both of which I like now, wounds heal occasionally or sometimes you realise that it was just two contexts mixing up in an unfortunate way. Childhood memories are like this (good or bad ones, although in reality they’re always mixed) and she captures it beautifully and economically in that simple Jane’s Addiction detail. I’ll vote for this book all day on the strength of that detail.
9. This entire book isn’t blackly funny to me, by the way. Although, I wasn’t being flip when I said that, some of it is (but maybe I’m biased towards it). It couldn’t be blackly funny throughout to anybody. Some things are very sad in it, occasionally brutal. The ambivalence of life is herein. It oscillates at times, like most of, like some of, life does between extreme visceral misery and extreme visceral joy.
10. If you want poetry, consider the comparison between the two images of a mother on page 57 — one where she is modelling in a magazine and the other where she is “dirty and buzzing in the bright morning light”
11. A ‘thin skinned-ness’ is symbolic in lots of parts of this book and in what I’ve previously read of Juliet Escoria. Not a thin-skin like a cowardly thin skin, not that at all, but rather a thin translucent skin that signifies a particular something recurring. Read it, put your finger on it, through it.
12. Am I going to say that there’s something of a connection between the spinning record on page 112 and the circle of the various narrators, who all really morph into one female narrator, a character who has lived a life with the faded glamour of a dysfunctional, trying to remain young parent and who in her adult life has flirted with a repeat of this life herself? No, I’m not.
12. I have a confession. I didn’t want to like this book at first. I’ve been getting suspicious about some Alt-Lit lately and worrying that it might just be a load of straight (as in straight in the Sixties sense of the word, as in ‘straight and not hip’ and not ‘straight and not gay’) middle-class, American popular kids rebelling against their well-off parents and sitting in the mud of unfortunate lives with their prescription drugs and ‘Prozac Nation’ style ‘depressions.’ Having been through all of this kind of thing in my own life, I’m very defensive about those kinds of middle-class kids claiming my territory, as it were, and wowing people with their drug references and so on. This is probably what I was talking about in point 3, but couched in a completely general, mock ‘wondering about cultural differences’ kind of way but I have to say that I’ve reviewed two books lately–Noah Cicero’s ‘Go to Work…’ and this one–and I’m blown away by how much I feel like they are not in any way what I’d consider ‘impostors in my own staked out drug-childhood, dysfunctional parent, drug-adulthood territory’. Rather I feel they are co-conspirators and they are real and they need writing and more so they need reading.
13. Oh and they help keep overly-privileged kids who might want a bit of ‘Breaking Bad’ mock glamour in their lives in the same way that they might want to read misery literature sometimes in order to sit in the mud and give some money to charity and feel worthy and who might even write some Alt-Lit and join in a bit because they took MDMA one time. Well kids, here’s the challenge if you’re planning on doing that – your efforts have to be as good as or better than this book if you’re going to go down that line. So think about this before you pop a bit of lithium into a narrative to ‘seem cool’.
14. NB. It’s not that I’m being like ‘all Alt-Lit type writers should’ve had a particular kind of childhood to be qualified to write it, one of the best things about the whole scene is the inclusiveness, I’m just saying ‘don’t throw in drug references if you have no experience of them’ just because you feel you have too, you probably have other experiences to write about, otherwise the whole thing will be like a ‘This is how to be a punk’ page in a tabloid newspaper that says you have to have bondage trousers and a pink haired Mohican. Identifit Alt-Lit is probably not what anybody wants.
15. Hey, corporate Christian-right readers of this review, don’t worry, be cool, despite all the drugs in this book it was powered by Red Bull.
16. Bands mentioned in this book that I can remember ‘The Doors,’ ‘T-Rex,’ ‘Guns n’ Roses,’ the aforementioned ‘Jane’s Addiction’ moment. For me, bands should always be mentioned in a book. It’s scary when it’s just Drake or something. It reminds me people still know about more than Drake.
17. I’m not really criticising Drake here. I haven’t formed an opinion on him yet.
18. The photographs work as well as the films in this book. I didn’t think they would when I read about them in another review before reading the book but they do. They work as well as the videos.
19. Sobriety is well depicted in this book. Sobriety is rarely well depicted in literature or in TV or the movies. It’s like the guy/girl who used to take too many drugs sees God and sees the sunshine or something and has some breakfast cereal and that isn’t quite enough. Sobriety is a bit like that but it is a murkier situation, I feel. Apart from this book, see the movie Drugstore Cowboy for some good sobriety stuff.
20. This doesn’t end in the same way as Drugstore Cowboy, which might mean it has the edge in the depiction of sobriety stakes.
21. This is my favourite book of the moment that has a passage with a dismembered mouse.
22. Interestingly, or not interestingly, the UK as compared to the US doesn’t have much of a Crystal Meth scene. Wonder why? This book has a meth-dealer character who really did make me laugh in the black comedy way that I discussed earlier. It made me laugh because it’s funny the notion of at what age someone should stop being a drug dealer. Never heard that before.
23. In case anyone is wondering, I don’t think this book particularly glorifies drugs but is simply reporting a slice of a reality about drugs (about bad sex also, about relationships, about jobs, about alot of things) from a personal point of view via alot of different narrators.
24. My favourite story in the whole thing is ‘The Sharpest Part of Her’ not that it really makes any difference to you what my favourite story is. Read the book yourselves.
25. ‘We got nosebleeds. We made lasagna. I got pregnant.’ This is the kind of book you’ll be reading if you buy it, which you should.
Richard Brammer is the author of three books ‘MDMA and Menthol Cigarettes,’ ‘Public Dick Punk 83’ and ‘Cult Boyfriend’ that are all available from Amazon here but isn’t the author of the German version of the book about Adobe Publishing Suite and nor is he the author of ‘Cuckoos of the World.’