A RED BRICK BUILDING, UGLY AS HELL, IN VENICE, CALIFORNIA by Marie-Gisele Landes-Fuss

A RED BRICK BUILDING, UGLY AS HELL, IN VENICE, CALIFORNIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Some years ago (the mid-1970s, it seems), French/Jewish journalist Landes-Fuss, then 36, arrived on a trip to California, spent the first few days feeding her longtime pill-addiction, hired the services of a male prostitute, and generally thrived on her high from those ""little rainbow-colored darlings."" Then, impulsively, despite protestations of non-addiction, she walked into a ""brick shithouse"" in Venice: a home for the rehabilitation of junkies, run entirely by ex-addict veterans of the program. Withdrawal pains soon followed, eased by some sexual ministrations from a ""black giant."" (The home encouraged casual sex as a pacifier.) Landes-Fuss was fascinated, frightened, appalled by her dozens of fellow inmates--""with their scars, their missing fingers, their tattoos, the holes that old abscesses had made in their skin. . . ."" She got used to the semi-sadistic regimen: hard labor, verbal abuse, ugly group-therapy sessions, midnight drug-searches, a total ban on contacts outside the home. But, for months, she resisted the pressure to have sex with any of the many available men--including a mean, womanizing supervisor. (""The Nazi's eyes ejaculate blue. . . Bastards. Cocksuckers. Sadists. What do they want of me? Three months and fourteen days without junk. What more do they want?"") Eventually, then, she gives in--and chooses the least likely bedmate around: black junkie Elton, ex-con, hitherto celibate, and sexually conservative. (""If I can get his prick in my mouth just once, our Elton won't be able to call his soul his own."") And, against her will, Landes-Fuss finds herself getting emotionally involved with the strange Elton--vainly hatching plans for his post-rehabilitation life, pining for him when he drifts away from her. (""Why am I always taking up with bastards? I'm too good. That's what attracts them."") So finally, after a marathon encounter-session, supervisor responsibilities, and a junk-free-year birthday, the journalist leaves, returns to France. . . but ultimately decides to settle in America. Landes-Fuss is not the most likable of narrators; her jagged, ironic delivery often reaches for Erica Jong-isms, showy/vulgar bravado; and--despite some vague references to a repressed childhood trauma during WW II--she remains a psychological cipher. Still, in an impressive Ralph Manheim translation, there's a good deal of raw, ugly, funny power here--in the rehabilitation-program details, the sketches of all those mean, sad, courageous ex-addicts.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday