Is an outlaw writer one who threatens to fill Marshall McLuhan with pencil lead?
The editors of this overstuffed anthology never quite get around to defining just what “outlaw literature” is and what makes it illicit, dangerous, or otherwise suspect, except to hint that it stands in some sort of opposition to the world of “reality shows, Botox, or IPOs,” to say nothing of a “culture coming of age in the grip of Google and Wal-mart.” Resounding sentiments, those, and the editors, famed counterculturists in their own right, presumably know outlaw literature when they see it. Still, you might wonder: What do Richard Brautigan and Mickey Spillane, who took home hefty advances and even heftier royalty checks, really have in common with, say, Boxcar Bertha and Sonny Barger? Would Emma Goldman have much to say to Valerie Solanas, Ray Bradbury to DMX? Only a deconstructionist, perhaps, could say with any authority. For our purposes, being an outlaw writer appears mostly to mean using lots of naughty words (Barry Gifford: “Willie Wild Wong, you dumb motherfucker!”; Jim Carroll: “‘I am the proletariat, you dumb bastard,’ he said, ‘and I think those motherfuckers are off their rockers”) and doing lots of naughty and unhealthful things (Norman Mailer: “I threw up a little while ago and my breath is foul”; William Burroughs: “Junk sickness, suspended by codeine and hop, numbed by weeks of constant drinking, came back on me full force”). Still, there are lots of good and memorable things here, among them Paul Krassner’s memoir of dropping acid with Groucho Marx; Dee Dee Ramone’s heartfelt plea, “Please don’t kill me now, God. I would love to be the last Ramone to die” (no such luck, sorry); and Malcolm X’s spot-on prediction that after his death “the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with ‘hate.’ ”
A freeform category, then, marked by a rather shapeless but still quite readable, collection. Good stuff, if you like that sort of thing.