Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book Review: BAD BAD BAD by Jesús Ángel García

Jesús Ángel García, badbadbad. Colorado: New Pulp Press, 2011. Fiction. 237 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9828436-3-5.

Jesús Ángel García's debut novel, badbadbad, is lousy with exquisite contradictions. The protagonist, Jesús Ángel García, is a fallen angel with a Jesus complex, a lost man with a mission. The novel is a bildungsroman told by a young man who is already divorced with a child; or do I mean a coming-of-age in reverse, an "adult child" seeking his own lost innocence? If he's looking for his innocence, it's through sexcapades with kinky chicks on the social web, and though he's enjoying a lot of sex dates, sex toys, and other Triple-X adventures in the Bible Belt South, he mainly seeks out troubled women who might need his healing powers of love and listening. He attends church services every Sunday morning, but that's just for appearances: He's more excited about evening performances by the local punk band Children's Crusade, but he makes a living as the webmaster for the biggest evangelical congregation in town. By day he forms allegiances with his custody lawyer and the Reverend; by night he shares bourbon and MP3s with the Reverend's excommunicated son. The story's a pulp fiction narrated (from jail? from beyond the grave?) to a younger brother he abandoned long ago to an abusive family. The novel's almost a stroke book, but some of the sex scenes are decidedly unappetizing. And although the novelist uses his own name for his protagonist, I have no idea (as reader) whether the book is thinly-veiled autobiography, metaphor for lived experience, or pure fabrication using the device of truthful confession.

One of the most perfect chapters is one where descriptions of a gay pride rally and a KKK march are intertwined. Both events attract the same two camps, it's just a matter of who's marching in the center (each in their own brand of costumes) and who's holding the protest placards on the sidelines. Another choice chapter sees Jesús (aka JAG) take a trip with two of the "fallen angels" (the name of the underground hook-up website JAG frequents) to a huge Southern tent show featuring "guns, knives, and dolls." The scene has a carnival atmosphere, even as it takes place under the kind of tent that (on another day) might house a religious revival. The "dolls" featured at the show are bikini-clad babes who pass out lemonade to shoppers and set up targets for customers enjoying their new guns. The weapons are lit by halogen lights as if they were jewels. The air smells of fried dough. JAG observes the families who push their baby strollers from booth to booth, window-shopping like they're at a mall. His "alt" friends encourage him (against his preferences) to buy a gun, a plot point that makes the reader wonder how alternative these kids really are. They teach JAG how to shoot, how to handle his gun, while the sexual healer imagines his ex-wife as the target. Nearby, some men have brought their own targets: images of black civil rights leaders. In the background, the sound of endless American war marches on.

Over and over in badbadbad, the plot reveals hypocrisies and paints contradictions within characters or scenes that once seemed to be only black and white. Other times it draws parallels and similarities between camps that are supposed to be polar opposites. Weren't the bigoted Bible-thumpers being set up as the bad guys and the queer-fabulous music-lovers the good fellows? What about the third-wave feminist hotties who are unashamed to declare what they want, but push their self-love to the point of shallowness? Are we being robbed of a symbology we thought we understood, or is García (the author) simply righting and complicating perceptions that were far too simplistic when we started reading?

JAG's story is full of people. But as characters enter, entice, and evaporate, one character remains. This reveal sneaks up on the reader: JAG is a narrator who provides some reflection, a certain amount of internal commentary along the way. But often enough the story reads like we're following him as an enchanted observer in a forest of wacky Southern characters—some long familiar, others new to the scene. Eventually, after the reader passes through all the distractions of colorful 21st Century punks, ravers, earth mamas, bondage queens, and neo-goths; after we wade through the rabid religious homophobes, Klansmen, and right-to-lifers, the character of JAG himself emerges. He's surrounded by pals and booked with play-dates, but his loneliness is only growing. His pull towards the social web is compulsive, his need to shop for the next hook-up is constant, his separation from his son is never-ending, and his desire for connection remains dangerously starved. Like JAG's own sudden revelation that constant online contact and overlapping cyber-relationships have added up to nothing, all these compelling characters suddenly disappear from the plot like ciphers: We're dropped into a sudden awareness of a profound emptiness in JAG that's been gathering steam while we were paying attention to everything else--a void growing ever more hungry, angry, and violent under the surface.

Badbadbad draws on styles and themes from familiar stories and older literatures. The novel sustains the straight-talk trashiness of 20th Century pulp, the sex-romp identity games of Kathy Acker, and the dark inevitability of Giovanni's Room. But it considers an absolutely current societal malaise: the twin-headed hydra of selective isolation and social media addiction. In the process, badbadbad reveals a new brand of lust for life and a new kind of lost generation.

Recommended for collections of contemporary fiction, literary fiction, small press fiction, emerging authors, neo-pulp fiction, fiction about the internet age, and Southern fiction.


Find badbadbad on New Pulp Press here.

Find more about this "transmedia" novel (and the 32-city book tour) on the author's website here.


Marie said...

*goes on the wishlist* love your blog!

The Emotional Orphan said...

Great book and if you have a chance to catch an event on the Summer Tour... you definitely should. Super review Karen.