Stahl’s (Pain Killers, 2009, etc.) eighth novel trips through the travails of Lloyd, copywriter and heroin junkie.
And what a trip it is: ribald, tumbling through a don’t-look-back narrative, laced with rude, wicked and beyond-the-edge social observations. Lloyd is "[a]nother doomed DeLillo with a day job," a career path spiraling downward from writing sanitized pharmaceutical side effects warnings through Penthouse Forum fake letters to disingenuous shills for Christian Swingles, a dating site. Lloyd is fueled by heroin, his maintenance drug after a career of "Plexiglas-cut crack, questionable E, bathtub crank." It’s only self-destructive until he’s conned into a fake robbery by Swingle cohorts and then exiled by Greyhound from Tulsa to LA. In transit, he meets Nora, a "buxom bad-attitude pixie...and...wanna-martyr." Nora’s paranoia seduces him into murder; her addicting sexuality prompts him to commit another. In LA, Lloyd signs on as a writer specializing in sexual perversion deaths for the CSI franchise. What appears to be a sendup of big pharma, television from Bruckheimer to Oprah, genetically modified organisms, Christian dating, Oral Roberts and the greeting card industry then veers into eco-surrealism. Nora claims pregnancy, the sire, a high-powered CEO, and after a quick segue into the foibles of Occupy-rallying LA hippies, Nora begins ingesting chemicals—"half the sprays and solvents in the household cleaning aisle, along with enough of the Physicians’ Desk Reference to fill the trunk of a Buick." Nora intends to birth a mutant baby—"a message, a global warning, a kind of toxic inoculation of the entire species." No cheers are due Lloyd or Nora, and supporting characters are equally deformed, including former Christian Swingle workmates Jay and Riegle, a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pairing fantasizing about riding Nora’s pregnancy into reality television wealth. A grotesque and lurid allegorical tale, this is not for the faint of heart.
Bukowski spawned the School of Dirty Realism. Consider this Dirty Surrealism, social satire as aberrant hipster irony.