The Notes from Underground
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Reels and roars from the American underbelly by Bowden (The Secret Forest, 1993, etc.), a veteran at engaging with misery.

The author is working with two fiercely different themes: the vileness that humans visit upon each other; and the nests in which they live, both their homeplaces and the greater earth beyond. Bowden also comes as two: a disembodied shadow-narrator of events and a thirsty, lusty man yearning for love, food, outside air, mesquite, a swarming of sensations. His subjects range from gated communities to child pornography, from the deaths of friends, abrupt and shattering or slow and wasting, to the deathwatch of days as they pass before the passing of a friend. Tension animates his narrative; there is a sinister ping in his voice, resonant and evocative and condemnatory, but he may also show you the escape route. As a newspaperman, Bowden walked the blood beat: eviscerations and disembowelings, rapes and beatings, child pornography ending in murder. From this he emerged drained, though not embalmed; he is a walking open wound, holding up human cannibalism for all to see. No hiding. Yet in these linked but self-contained chapters, he also reminds readers of the nation’s once powerful labor tradition, now so starved and neglected that union gatherings are dwarfed by their convention halls. The author expresses genuine ambivalence about capital punishment, though he doesn’t let himself or the reader off the hook that easily: he attends and describes an execution. Bowden can also, let it be known, write engagingly about preparing a meal and riff with delicate humor about a wallet painted with a revolutionary’s image: “Che Guevara, Capitalist Tool. Consumed, devoured, recycled, commodified—wow, have we got the words. Retro. A language of cannibalism.”

Bowden spins a fine, grim tale as he digs for a life of the senses: monstrous, beautiful, but always in plain sight.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 2002
ISBN: 0-86547-624-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2002


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