Tuesday, December 15, 2009
BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR
I just finished reading a novel that now ranks among my all-time favorites. Until a few weeks ago I'd literally never heard its title or the name of its author who, as far as I can tell, has only three published novels to his name, one from the '80s and two from the mid-'90s (I haven't read the others, but am going to). The novel is Brand New Cherry Flavor by Todd Grimson. (Maybe the only thing I actually didn't like about the novel is its title, which has no referent in the book and seems totally arbitrary/self-conscious. Believe me, given the content of the novel itself, there are about five million titles that would have been better. For example, Tomorrowland. Or Auteur Theory. Or Zombies in Hollywood. I don't know.)
Extremely condensed and summarized, the novel concerns an aspiring actress/director named Lisa who wants to get a job as an assistant to a famous director, so she sleeps with a studio executive. When he wriggles out of the implied deal, she tries to get revenge with the help of a voodoo priest who lives in East L.A. It would be foolish to say anything more, except that I stayed up all night two nights in a row reading the novel (alternating with writing--otherwise I would have finished it in a night, I think), which is richer and more engrossing than any summary can suggest. The satire of ambition and sexual politics is funny, smart, accurate-feeling. There are a million characters. It gets dizzying. Not much can turn my stomach, but the scenes of horror here really are revolting, bizarre. The voodoo priest, with his shrunken heads and his calm celebrity homicides, is fucking awesome. The narrative got so labyrinthine, what with trips to Brazil and mind-birthed art films, that by the end I was flipping back and forth to make sure I'd followed threads (biggest wait, what?: So was it a coincidence that the wife helped him track down the couch upholstered with the skin of the white jaguar sometime well before Lisa hired Boro? And then after her husband ended up in pieces nailed to the wall, she started working with him, wearing the costume? Was she, then, complicit in Lou's downfall?) and how they were involved with each other, what crimes they were responsible for.
The dizzying feeling was the same one I get near the end of Ellroy's totemic L.A. Quartet books, especially L.A. Confidential, and Grimson must have read those (Ellroy blurbed him, after all) and been influenced, I would think. But Grimson's novel is way more surreal. It employs a certain degree of "dream logic" and, obviously, elements of the supernatural in a way that Ellroy has never tried, and I think would not want to try. I think, actually, that Grimson's novel comes closer than any novel I've ever read to capturing the real rhythm/experience of a dream or nightmare. Strange, implausible, unexpected things happen--but within the structure of the experience, they make sense, and there is a genuine feeling of non-arbitrary cause-and-effect. So you feel that Grimson has done his work as a writer and is not cheating by using "dream logic" as an excuse to just write whatever the hell he wants and go off on tangents--you feel that he's actually done harder work than a writer would be who was obeying more traditional laws of narrative.
The ending, also, has that dream logic feel. It just gets to a certain point and stops. Certain things aren't wrapped up, although a lot are. It ends very abruptly.
I can only describe Brand New Cherry Flavor as a near-perfect book for a very particular type of reader, those who love the work of the following artists:
Bret Easton Ellis
It's truly what an unholy combination of work by those people would look like. I mean, almost exactly. Imagine what that book/movie would be, and that's Brand New Cherry Flavor.