Ink to Film Podcast: Ep-76 Jesus’ Son (1992 novel)

 

Note: The Ink to Film Podcast is conversational and intended to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, if able, for tone and inflection. Our transcripts are generated using a transcriptionist but may contain errors. Please refer to the corresponding audio before quoting anything written here.

 

This episode aired on February 14, 2019 and was made possible by our generous Patreons. 

 

Luke:Welcome to the Ink to Film podcast, where we read the book…

 

James: …and then see the movie.

 

Luke:I’m Luke.

 

James: And I’m James.

 

Luke:And this week, we discuss Denis Johnson’s 1992 short story collection, Jesus’ Son. <music plays>. And happy Valentine’s Day. Do you realize this episode is coming out on the 14th?

 

James: Yeah, I mean now I do. Uh…

 

Luke: <laughs.

 

James: That’s pretty funny. It’s a fitting project, right?

 

Luke:Yeah, such a romance, right?

 

James: Yup.

 

Luke: Yeah, we got a little off. We meant to do Silver Linings on this week, but I think we got off on our weeks. Whatever. What it is, though, is this is a collection of short stories that made me…well, partially is responsible for me falling in love with language and wanting to be a writer. I read it in college, so I was already well on the path, but I remember it just really strongly affected me when I read it, and so, in that sense, it is a love story. It’s me loving stories.

 

James:Just finishing this collection of short stories, I can completely see that. Because it’s just like this experience reading a book that I’ve never really had before. There’s been things that have been similar, but this was such a very specific thing and such a very specific voice, it’s poetic while also being completely gruesome and horrific at times. And just, like, hard to read. It’s cool because it’s like truth while also being surreal, and then it’s also poetic. I don’t know. It’s crazy. It was a very interesting…

 

Luke:There’s a lot of, like, really funny parts in this book, too. Which is weird to say sometimes, because it’s so dark. It’s really dark comedy at times.

 

James:Yeah, there’s something about how incoherent it is. It’s, like, on purpose. And it’s like this stream of consciousness even trying to formulate…it blows my mind that he is able to write something and have it be so scatterbrained, kind of, like an addict or like someone who is using would be, while also, like I said, being so poetic and so well-written and presented.

 

Luke:Well, we’ll get into his bio a little bit here in a minute, which I think is interesting. But, yeah, you won’t be surprised to hear that he does write poetry as well. Because this guy can really, you know, nail a sentence. He’s one of those writers who, I just stop every page or two and just am in awe of some sentence he wrote and go, “Oh my God, I could spend my entire career chasing a sentence like that.” It’s wild.

 

James:And sometimes it’s like I’m thinking this is from the perspective of our narrator, and it’s like, “Is our narrator describing these things in this capacity or is it just like…maybe he’s able to see these things but not necessarily…” Because it seems to me that, like, the narrator wouldn’t necessarily be able to describe things in this kind of detail, but we as the reader seeing through his eyes are, and maybe that’s something to do with his drug addiction or something like that.

 

Luke:Okay, so it sounds to me like you’re trying to separate…or figure out how separate the author is from the narrator?

 

James:Not necessarily. I just mean…it seems to me that the prose is more…it’s at a level that I wouldn’t expect the narrator to kind of go to. You know what I mean? I don’t necessarily think that he would be thinking this intellectually.

 

Luke:There’s some stuff about that…I mean, loosely about that in a future scene, but we’ll get to it in a minute. Before we do, though, I wanted to announce to our listeners who might be like, “This is kind of a weird project; I don’t know about this,” this is sort of a passion project of mine. Like I said, this guy is a writer’s writer, I would call him. If you’ve been in MFA programs and you’ve been around this kind of stuff, you probably know about him. How widely popular he is outside of that world, I don’t really know. There is a movie. Obviously, that’s why we’re covering it. And I think it did okay, but I believe it was considered like an indie movie at the time. But we are…for those of you who listen for the more mainstream stuff, we wanted to go ahead and announce we’re doing Game of Thrones, Season 1 after this project is over. So, make sure to check that out. It’s going to be very exciting, because that is another huge project for me, because George R.R. Martin, in that book series, is one of the reasons that I write fantasy and write speculative genre fiction in general.

 

James:Game of Thrones, and we all know how big of a phenomenon it is, and we’re excited for the finale that’s coming here soon. So, we really wanted to relive it and do it with the audience, so it will be fun.

 

Luke:Yeah. We thought it would be fun to go back and revisit the origin, so if you haven’t seen Season 1 and, you know, seven or eight years or whatever it is now, and you just want to go back and relive the early days, it should be a lot of fun. So, definitely check that out.

 

But, yeah man, I just wanted to talk to you more about your general thoughts on this. Because you said this isn’t really the sort of thing you read. 

 

James:No.

 

Luke:I will say this is a very good example, but this is kind of a taste of modern literary writing. In a way that I think a lot of people aren’t exposed to. When a lot of  people think of literature, they think of stuff that was written in the 1800s as being literature. You know. And, like, that stuff is too, but that’s more like classic literature. This is more contemporary. Now, this was written in the 90s, so I’m sure it’s moved on. Actually, it’s almost 30 years ago now. 

 

James:It’s about as old as me.

 

Luke:Yeah, man. What was it like reading something like this, and how does it compare to everything else we’ve read?

 

James:Well, in comparison to everything we’ve read, it’s completely different, but I can see why you wanted us to do it, because it’s so…it’s so purely from a…I can see he’s one of the Mount Rushmores, maybe potentially, of this sort of fiction. And it makes me…for my own personal life…it makes me…and I’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but it makes me think of creative writing classes that I’ve taken in college and things like that, that weren’t necessarily in my major but I wanted to take to kind of like flesh out my education. So, like, I’ve said this before, but briefly, when I went into the creative writing class for the first class…it was a fiction writing class…so I was like, “Oh, this will be really fun. I’ll get to write some fiction.” This is the type of fiction that everybody else in the class was trying to write, and I was trying to write very genre-specific fiction for the first week or two, and then I wised up and started trying to write…

 

Luke:I think we talked about this in Episode 1 of this podcast. Isn’t that funny? And here we are in episode 76, this is going to be, I think. Seventy-six episodes later. Yeah, yeah, exactly, and I shared that I had a similar experience, where at the school I was at, they didn’t like genre either. But this shows that you can write really interesting stuff like this, but it’s hard because often people aren’t exposed to this sort of thing until they arrive in those classes. So, it’s like here’s a thing you’ve never been exposed to. Now, try and write something like that. That’s tough!

 

James:Yeah, it’s just like, for a lot of general audiences, when you hear fiction, you think like fantastical words or something like very, very fiction, but you can have something that’s grounded in…

 

Luke:Like pop culture fiction.

 

James:Right, you can have something that’s grounded in real life and just a story that you’re telling that doesn’t have really…just has human elements to it. So, I feel like that opened my eyes up to that kind of stuff, and then a lot of stuff we read in those classes were in the same vein, but that’s why I feel like I have an appreciation for this. Just having that little tiny background in that. And then, going into this, I was blown away. Just the sheer…the weight of these stories. Like, each one, I had to take a breather between each one, and it was just like…they’re heavy, they’re, well, also so densely well-written. And it’s not like dense in the way that it’s hard to read through, but it’s just like there’s so much subtext or there’s so much…there’s the plot of what’s going on in these stories, and then there’s also like another plot going on, where he’s laying subtext for some other moral story that he’s trying to tell or something like that.

 

Luke:Yeah, man. So, I wrote down, “It’s like trying to eat ten filet mignons in a row.” That’s what these stories are like. Filet mignons of sadness. <laughs>

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:It is. It’s like they’re delicious. It’s great. But it’s so rich and hearty, and you just want to savor it. So, it’s really hard to just power through this book, even though it’s super short compared to all the other stuff we read. So, yeah, I agree. It’s weird, because it’s so sad and it definitely feels sort of soul-crushing at times when you’re reading it. Obviously, this book is filled with existential dread and angst, and that can be a bit oppressive to certain people, I guess. And to me, too. But I also sort of enjoy it. And, so I do recommend this book to people. If you wanted to give contemporary literature a taste…because there’s also a lot of just exciting stuff that happens in here, too. It’s not dry at all. This is about a fucked-up guy, literally called… Fuckhead is his nickname. And he’s a drug addict, and he just goes through life, and crazy shit happens to him, and around him, and he does crazy shit. And we just kind of follow his life. I don’t know, it’s just really fascinating.

 

James:Something about each story, too, is it feels like…while you’re reading it, it feels important. Like, each story feels like an important thing to read. Even though it’s not necessarily from some actual life experiences or anything like that. It just feels like, because he’s giving us as the readers this perspective, we’re able to, I think, empathize and sympathize with people who are addicts a little more and then, not to mention, it feels important just because of the way that he’s writing. You can just tell that this is somebody who’s respected in his field and is bringing something really special. So, I have a couple of things that came to me while reading this. How familiar are you with David Lynch’s films?

 

Luke:Not…you know I thought I was more familiar than I am, because I actually reviewed a discography of him at some point and read down the list and realized I don’t even know if I’d seen any of them. I might have seen like one.

 

James:So, he is such an interesting filmmaker because he does this thing where…

 

Luke:He also did Twin Peaks, right?

 

James:Yeah, he did Twin Peaks.

 

Luke:Yeah, so I watched…I’ve only seen maybe two or three episodes of that, but that might be the only David Lynch I’ve actually seen.

 

James:There’s something that’s been coined about him: “He has like a Lynchian kind of style to him.” And a lot of these stories were bringing that to me, and it’s kind of like this sort of absurdist, surreal…like, you’re not really supposed to understand what’s going on but, at the same time, if you re-read it or re-watch it or try to understand a little more, there’s more to it. And it’s like the normal, like, there’s things going on that are normal and abnormal. Things that are abnormal begin to seem normal. It’s really hard to explain. But, basically, this felt very Lynchian to me, and it felt creative in a totally different way than I think a lot of other people can even, like, think. Do you know what I mean? 

 

Luke:Yeah.

 

James:I don’t know a lot of people who would go to this space to write something like this.

 

Luke:Well, like Lynch, from what I understand…just from what I know about him…it seems like he’s…would you say it’s fair to say he’s influenced many directors who have come after him?

 

James:Oh, for sure. Yeah, I was just watching a Yorgos Lanthimos film, which he did, like, The Lobsterand, like, Killing of a Sacred Deer.

 

Luke:The Favourite?

 

James:And The Favourite, yeah. He…so, he’s definitely influenced by David Lynch. It’s just this tone and style and the way that…each one has their own style of that kind of thing, but it’s like that absurdist, sort of surreal…

 

Luke:So, I don’t know if you’re familiar with who Raymond Carver is. Or does that name sound familiar to you?

 

James:No, I’m not familiar.

 

Luke:He’s a pretty well-known short story…and I think he wrote novels, too. I’m not an expert in Raymond Carver, but I’ve read some of his stuff, and I’ve really enjoyed it. We’re about to get into bio, but Denis Johnson attended the Iowa MFA writer’s workshop, which for literary workshops is considered the top workshop in the nation. And while he was there, one of his professors was Raymond Carver. So, he’s considered sort of a disciple of Raymond Carver. You know, how overstated or understated that is, I don’t know. And then, he’s gone on to…

 

James:Well, it’s always cool to see, like, the lineage, yeah.

 

Luke:Right. And then he’s gone on to influence a whole generation of writers who’ve come after him from this book. It was written in the early 90s. 

 

James:I just can’t even begin to understand…it’s like how do you take yourself to these places, and how do you…you’re supposed to, you know, subvert expectations, but it’s like there are no expectations. You can’t even expect any of these things that are going on.

 

Luke:Well, you have none of the trappings of genre to fall back on. Which is scary when you try and write this sort of stuff. We’re about to get into the bio stuff, but this stuff is semi-biographical. Autobiographical, I should say. 

 

James:Oh, really?

 

Luke:Yeah. Um, he said much of this happened to him. Some of it happened to people he knew. But, like, his nickname was Fuckhead. When he was in his 20s and a drug addict. 

 

James:So, it was very close to him. I thought it was more like this removed artist writing something that he didn’t know. But it was a…he was, like, in it.

 

Luke:So, this reminds me of the collection of short stories…now I’ve also heard them called story cycles. I don’t know how official a term that is, but I kind of like it. So, maybe I’ll call it a story cycle. But they are, like, linked short stories, but they do each kind of stand on their own. That’s how this book is. There is another one that I absolutely love called The Things They Carried, which is about the Vietnam war, but that is a similar book because it’s autobiographical, but it’s also fiction because it’s not all about him. He uses other people’s stories, and then he changes some stuff and changes the dates on things and shifts things around to make it thematically interesting, and to make, I guess, a certain point with what he’s trying to tell. So, it’s like it’s kind of real, kind of fiction that then becomes fiction because, you know, you can’t be half untrue and still be called nonfiction. 

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:Yeah, and then it’s all blurry lines, and he says it’s also like fuzzy memories. So some of it, he doesn’t even know what was real and what wasn’t. And I think that all reflects.

 

James:Now I have to re-read the whole novel, because that totally changes my perspective on everything. <laughs>

 

Luke:So, before we get into…we’re going to get into more specifics after we do bio. But even before that, I have a lot of ideas that were occurring to me. This is my second time reading it, and I’ve read certain stories, like “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” and “Emergency,” in particular, many other times. I think I’ve read “Emergency” eight or ten times now.

 

James:Can we say that’s your favorite one, or do you not like to pick favorites? Because I feel like that might have been my favorite, as well.

 

Luke:Yeah, I mean…I think it’s safe to say that’s the most famous story from this collection. I’ll be interested to see…because it seems to me, from what I know of the movie, it’s like the linchpin of the movie. But I’m curious how much of his other stuff is in the movie. Neither of us have seen it, so we’ll find out. 

 

James:Yeah, that’s another whole thing. I can’t even…I don’t even know how you adapt this.

 

Luke:Well, okay, I’m going to put you on the spot at the end of the episode, because I want to ask you how you would go about…or how you can try imagine adapting this book into a movie. So, maybe be kind of thinking about that. 

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:But I think this question I’m about to ask you might kind of help in that…along those lines. This time when I was reading it, I was trying to figure out what makes this a cohesive book. What links these stories—other than character—like, obviously it’s the same person. But I’m thinking like thematic. I’m thinking about the point it’s trying to make. That kind of stuff. And I know that’s a big question, but was any of that stuff running through your head, like you felt there was some sort of message behind this book that you could pick up on?

 

James:I mean, I feel like there’s a lot, but to say one specific one…um, clearly I think he’s trying to humanize addiction. I think he’s trying to bring it to a more attainable level for people. Because you’ll see an addict and know that somebody’s using and see them as, like, violent or dangerous. And they very well could be, but at the same time they’re struggling with something that’s, like, basically now that they’ve started it, it’s almost out of their control. And coming back from that is really hard. I feel like that would be the obvious through-line. 

 

Luke:Let me examine that a little bit. I think one of the ways he does that, and I agree that he does that, is to show addiction—through our narrator, at least—as being almost a coping mechanism for him, in my opinion. For sort of like the absurdity of life. To me, it felt like he was giving away control constantly to the drugs. Because he didn’t want to be in control of his own life, and I think it was partly because of the tragedy that was always surrounding him. I think it felt safer for him if it was just like, “I’m not in control anymore; now, the drug is.” And also, there’s also a little bit of like that seeking meaning. It feels to me like our narrator is looking for meaning throughout this book. Whether it’s from the divine or from drugs or from sex or from nature itself. There are all sorts of things we see him turning to throughout these stories. To me, it felt like he really wanted to find a purpose and find…you know, sometimes we see him doing things that are heroic…or somewhat heroic. And other times we see him being completely reprehensible. And it’s almost like he’s just experimenting with different things and trying to figure out who he is and where he fits into this fucked-up world. And then he’s surrounded himself with people who are kind of doing the same thing. And so, then, all that stuff becomes framed, in my opinion, in that same light. Everybody is just trying to figure out how to live, and we see all these relationships between these people are totally fucked up. And there are also some of the most memorable happy moments, like, memories they have. But we see so many of these relationships—I’m talking about romantic relationships—they always go terribly wrong. It’s the same thing with the drugs. Like, obviously, that’s leading to tragedy. And so it’s like this trap that he’s in searching for meaning or something, and maybe going to the wrong places for it. I don’t know. 

 

James:So you just kind of rattled some stuff in my brain and made me start thinking about something. Obviously, the story is called Jesus’ Son, right?

 

Luke:Right.

 

James:And you were kind of touching on some of the reasons why it could be Jesus’s son. Like the idea that Christ, or Jesus, was this person…like, in the biblical sense, somebody who died for sins. It’s like you’re going around and sinning and seeing if you can find forgiveness through that, and it’s like we have the ability to sin because of Jesus. There’s that perspective. And, so, it’s like Jesus’s son is basically the person who comes after sin has been forgiven, like if you look for the path through Jesus. And that also brings up an interesting point of religion that I kept seeing popping up in interesting ways. And, honestly, because of the title going in, I kind of felt that there would be religious undertones, but I kept picking up on maybe even really, really subtle ones, where there was like…somebody would just use Jesus as an expletive. Where they’d be like, “Jesus, what are you doing?” or something like that. 

 

Luke:Well, there’s a moment in “Emergency” where he thinks he sees an angel through the snow, and he talks about how he’s going to…he almost shit himself, he was so afraid of it. Right? But then it ends up not being that.

 

James:And how about the…and then in “Car Crash,” he has that moment when she’s…the wife is finding out about the husband, I believe, and the room is glowing, and she is screaming, and he’s hearing otherworldly things, and…

 

Luke:And we never know, like, what’s drugs and what’s…something else. Right? So it’s blurring that line, because we also know he’s on drugs throughout all of these stories. So, he’s often on LSD or hallucinogens or whatever, and so who knows what’s going on in his head. And to me, that’s kind of the through-line through all of it. And if you look at it through that lens, it’s kind of interesting because I think there is sort of an arc for the character by the end.

 

Okay, let’s go ahead and get into bio for Denis. Denis Hale Johnson was born July 1, 1949, died May 24, 2017. So, just a couple years ago.

 

James:Oh really, wow.

 

Luke:Actually, I think I do remember hearing about this. Yeah, he was only 67, so he was fairly young. Liver cancer.

 

James:Oh, wow. I actually didn’t know what year the book came out. I didn’t look at it when I started reading it. And I didn’t know the age of this person, and for some reason, I thought it was a mid-2000s book but written by a younger man.

 

Luke:No, so the early stories, I believe, are supposed to be set in the late 70s, early 80s. 

 

James:Because he talks about Vietnam a little bit here and there, right?

 

Luke:Right. Because Vietnam had just happened when he was in his 20s, I guess. Or was happening around that time. He is most famous for this collection of short stories. He has also written a novel called The Tree of Smoke, which won the National Book Award for fiction. So, also well-known for that. He’s written plays, poetry, journalism and nonfiction, as well. And he just had another collection of short stories that was published posthumously. That just came out earlier this…last year, I believe. Now, he was a recluse in life, famously so. Didn’t agree to do hardly any appearances. Did very few interviews. Was not really a public figure. Now, occasionally he’d come out and he’d teach, like a semester at like the Iowa workshop. It must have been incredible to be in one of those classes. Because he was not on faculty. It was like every now and then he’d come and do a semester. I was able to find some of the interviews he did. There were two major interviews, and my notes got a little scrambled, and I’m not sure what came from which interview, so what I’ll do is I’ll put links to both interviews in the show notes, if you want to see the full interviews. But there’s a couple things in these interviews that are really interesting because, literally, that’s the only bio I have. Other than stuff I picked up from interviews I read. But some of this stuff I thought was really interesting, just to sort of set the table for us getting into more detail. 

 

So, the interviewer asks: “Do you see your first-person narrator, Fuckhead namely, as having written the stories themselves?” And his response: “Voice. I don’t think of it as under my control. I like Fuckhead’s voice. I liked it the minute I heard it, and I enjoy its doubleness. He seems to be immersed in his era and also looking back on it from years afterward. But that’s all I can tell you about that. When I was an undergrad, I took courses from the poet Marvin Ball, who said ‘Don’t be committed to one voice.’ I don’t remember if he said it once or he said it often, but it stuck with me, and I stick by it. I try to forget what I’ve already written and forget what it sounded like and treat each attempt as if it were my very first.” To me, I’ve read a lot of authors talking about stuff, and this was something sort of fresh to me. I never really heard this. A lot of times people talk about, like, you’ll develop a voice over time, and that will become what you’re known for, and it will be in all your work, and all that stuff. Whereas, he is sort of dismissing voice a little bit and saying that he tries to approach everything in, like, a fresh way with a new voice. Which is…I don’t know how possible that is, but it’s interesting that he approaches things that way.

 

James:I can understand a new perspective and new way of writing, like a different character from a different background, or something like that. But to just fully change your voice. Like, especially from this. There’s no way. If he wrote something else, I would know it was him. You k know what I mean?

 

Luke:<laughs> You’d think, yeah. Okay, so here’s another one I thought was interesting. “You’ve discussed with critics how your work trades in spiritual themes. How would you characterize the theological questions you ask about religion or God in your work? Have these questions changed over time?” His response: “Ah, now, this is a question I’ve learned to run from. And it’s the chief reason I avoid giving interviews. If I’ve discussed these things in the past, I shouldn’t have. I’m not qualified. I don’t know who God is or any of that. People concerned with those questions turn up in my stories, but I can’t explain why they do. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t.”

 

James:If he doesn’t want to talk about any of it that far, it’s because he himself struggles with it on a daily basis. Or did struggle with it, I’m sure.

 

Luke:I mean it’s interesting, right, an interesting kind of evasion of an answer. But, in and of itself, it is an answer, too, right? Because it’s so…that’s right for his characters who are searching for meaning, and clearly he is, too. I don’t think he wants to pin it down, because I think it can rob some of the mystique of the story when you start to lay it all out. Now, I believe this is from a different interview. So, the questioner is asking him about going back and re-reading the stories of Jesus’ Son. And they say, “What did you feel towards them when you read them? Even if you would sit down and read them by yourself?” And he says, “Well, I don’t know. I rarely read them to myself, but reading them out loud, I really enjoyed the humor in them. People would almost always come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I didn’t realize those were funny. I thought those stories were just sad.’ When you read them out loud, people laugh a lot because the characters are humorous. It’s just the situations are generally very, very bleak.” And I think that’s true. I think often, like, I have to almost step back a little bit and think about how it is actually pretty funny. And then I can totally see that, if you’re in a room full of people, and he’s reading these stories out loud, there’s probably a lot of laughs for a lot of the crazy shit that happens in them, you know?

 

James:The way that he writes these characters and these stories in this specific collection here, he’s writing it as it would happen in real life. It’s not like…there’s no plot, really, right? It’s like wherever the wind blows these characters; whatever happens, happens. I think it’s like laughing from absurdity.

 

Luke:There’s some genuinely funny moments, though, that we can talk about as they come up.

 

James:But I feel like he…by saying that he didn’t mean to write it as funny…clearly he was infusing some humor because I think that’s part of stories…

 

Luke:Oh, no. I think he may have meant for it to be funny, but I think a lot of people reading it in the quiet of their own home maybe don’t recognize the humor of it all the time, and it’s…if they’re in a room full of people laughing, then they go, “Oh, that was supposed to be funny.” 

 

James:Okay, yeah, I get you. I get you.

 

Luke:Okay, so one other thing. I won’t read the full question, but basically they compare him to some other famous authors and talk about him being really influential, and one he agrees with, he says he was influenced by The Catcher in the Rye. That was one of his favorite books growing up.

 

James:That’s one of my favorite books.

 

Luke:Yeah. He feels like in a similar way that this is a story of what he called “the journey of a youthful soul.” 

 

James:Hmm.

 

Luke:So, there’s really not a lot. There’s those couple interviews he gave. I was looking for him on YouTube to see if he did any recorded interviews. Not really. I could find some readings he did. Like at different MFAs and stuff…different MFA programs. Videos of like 50 views and stuff. It’s wild. But it’s out there if you want to look for it. But, really, he was a pretty reclusive guy who just didn’t do a lot of public appearances. Oh, in one of the interviews, they were talking about his home in Idaho. He had like 120 acres in Idaho. He was just like out in the middle of nowhere, on his 120 acres.

 

James:Yeah, as much as selfishly, I would have liked there to have been more interviews, I think having some of that mystery adds to the stories as well. So, it makes me feel good. I kind of feel like he got to live the life he wanted to live. If he wanted to be a recluse and not have to deal with the public eye and everything, it sounds like he succeeded. 

 

Luke:Well, and I’m sure he’s never really said, like, “This is true that happened to me, and this is fiction…” you know what I mean…but clearly a lot of this stuff actually happened. I read in his bio that he was on his third wife when he died. And we know the character in the book definitely talks about being married once…maybe twice? I was unclear. So, you know, clearly I think he’s had a very fraught romantic history throughout his life, and it’s really interesting because, if a lot of this stuff is true, then holy shit. You know? Some of the stuff this guy lived through.

 

James:I mean, yeah. I mean, we’re going to get into some of the little details here in a second, but just think about if “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” is real. Like, that’s the most traumatic thing that ever happens to you. And then everything that follows is also right there with it. It’s crazy. Been through a lot.

 

Luke:Well, you talked about it, so I think it’s time to get into it. So, you have a little description for each one of these you were going to read. Just to kind of set the stage. We won’t go real in-depth into the plot. We’ll set the stage and then we’ll talk about each story briefly. We’re going to try and move through them all. So, like, we could have done an episode for each story in this book. Like, very easily. But we decided that might have been a bit much. So, we’re going to try and get through here. 

 

James:Yeah, I think this is the point where we should say that if you haven’t read this book, you should definitely check it out, because we’re not going to do it justice by these little blurbs and….

 

Luke:Oh, no.

 

James:We’re definitely going to talk about the details, so if you do read it, you can come back and kind of have that knowledge of these stories and get it more out of the…

 

Luke:We’re trying to set the table so that, like, if you read this, but it’s been a while, you can remember, “Oh, they’re talking about that one story where this happens.” 

 

James:Okay, so “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.” My little blurb here is: a hitchhiker on drugs gets a ride from a family. He has a vision of them getting into a crash, and then it happens. 

 

Luke:<laughs> This story, man. Right out of the gates. It is such a gut punch to me. It’s so sad and so beautiful, too. I thought it was really interesting how he has this sleeping bag draped over his shoulders like a cape, which I thought was an interesting sort of image. As he’s clearly not a hero, and the way he’s behaving is not heroic. But it kind of is, because he also has the baby. So, yeah, he’s hitchhiked with a family, but he has this premonition that they’re going to get in a car crash, and then they do. And it’s just crazy. It’s chaos, right? 

 

James:Yeah. I didn’t even make the cape connection, but that’s cool. I like that. But the interesting thing to me is that he just accepts…he doesn’t say anything about it. He just accepts it. And he’s in the car, too, so you know that he potentially could have gotten killed or hurt, and he’s just like, “We’re going to get in a wreck and, whatever. I’m going to lean my head against the side of the car and just let it happen.” And then the baby…

 

Luke:Then he just is somehow miraculously unscathed, it seems like.

 

James:Yeah. And so is the baby. Which is also amazing. I thought they were going to make it out, and there was going to be some larger story of…because I was immediately thinking there was going to be religious stuff, so I thought there was going to be some miracle that happened. But it’s kind of the opposite in the way. There are miracles, but at the same time there was a tragedy.

 

Luke:Yeah, and so he kind of walks through the destruction, and he sees a man laid out, near death. Like, very near death. Unconscious. Like, snoring, I think? He says he’s like snoring rudely or something, which is such a crazy way to describe it. And then he just keeps walking on. He has the baby in his arms, and then like a semi has pulled over, and he gets in with the guy who’s in there, and they’re just like sitting there together watching it, and waiting for something to happen. I don’t know. It’s like this bizarre thing where you want them to, like, do something. I don’t know.

 

James:Yeah. 

 

Luke:But you can also see that they’re in shock, clearly. Right? Like everybody’s in shock.

 

James:And, so the cops come and basically, they say, “You need to go to the hospital.” And they take everybody to the hospital. And he gets there and kind of like sees the fallout of the husband…when they loaded the husband up into the ambulance and everything, he was like, basically, “There’s no way he’s going to make it,” and by the time he gets there, I believe, he’s dying.

 

Luke:So, there’s a line, and I can’t remember it specifically, but the gist of it was that there was like a tragedy of the man is clearly dreaming and our narrator can’t…he can’t tell our narrator what he’s dreaming, and our narrator can’t tell him thathe is dreaming.

 

James:Right. 

 

Luke:Does that sound familiar to you? Do you remember that line? Am I getting it close? <laughs> Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this in the podcast, but I was in a really severe car accident myself about ten years ago, and I was in a coma for about, I don’t know, a week and a half after it happened. And I have a lot of crazy memories of weird dreams and being in and out of consciousness and reality sort of being blurred between dreaming about what happened and then what actually happened, and forgetting what happened. And all this stuff. So, when I was reading about this, it connected to me very strongly. It reminded me of that. 

 

James:I was thinking of you during the story, man. It’s a miracle that you’re even here on the podcast right now, so to read this car crash story is also really crazy and, uh, yeah, I was thinking about you. So.

 

Luke:You know what’s crazy is the first time I read this book was before I was in the accident. So, that happened after. It’s kind of creepy, actually. And that sets the tone for the entire book because it’s about the crazy randomness of tragedy that’s possible in life. The absurdity of it. A lot of philosophers have talked about this, like Sartre and Camus and all these existentialists have talked about this sort of thing. And they have different…and Nietzsche…and they have different ways that they feel you can handle it. And one of them is to turn to drugs and try and get every ounce of enjoyment you can get out of life while you have it, because that’s what you should do in the face of absurd tragedy that can strike at any moment. And some of them lived their lives that way. Like drug addicts and what have you. Obviously, I’m not saying I necessarily adhere to that. But this book to me kind of embodies that thinking in a sense, because I feel like our narrator…that’s his reaction to this shit. To double down on drugs. And try to escape it.

 

James:I was not sure until, like the second story, or actually maybe even the third story, that all of these stories were going to be from the perspective of the same person. 

 

Luke:Well, he’s totally unnamed for like half the book. And then we only get the nickname, the Fuckhead name. That’s it.

 

James:Yeah. And then there’s also evidence, I would say, I don’t have any specifics right here, but I would say that there’s also evidence that sometimes it doesn’t seem like the same person.

 

Luke:Well, and it’s interesting, because we heard that…he has said…that some of this stuff is stories people told him. Oh, that was the other thing he said. So, this was all…he would tell people these stories over the years, and people would always tell him, “You should write this stuff down.” And he kept feeling like, “No, no, no. I just told you it. I don’t need to write it down.” And, so like years went by of him like telling these stories over and over to people until he finally sat down and wrote it all down. Um, and he said he wrote down several of these stories in the same day, I think is what I read. Which seems crazy to me. If maybe some of this stuff was actually somebody else, maybe that’s why it feels that way? I don’t know.

 

James:Maybe, yeah. The other thing is that I don’t think there’s really evidence to say this is in chronological order. Any of these stories. So, we don’t really know, necessarily, where it’s happening. Unless he gives specific details about where he’s at, what age he is, or like year-wise, we can’t even place it sometimes. So, I don’t know…

 

Luke:So, this came up in the interview. He said that “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” is chronologically the earliest story, and the final story, um which I’m trying to look up the name of right now, that is chronologically the last story. And then he said, in between, it is roughly chronological with some changes. Originally, he had the entire book completely out of order. But I think an editor pushed him to try to make it a little more chronological because he thought it would progress more as an overarching story that way.

 

James:Well, I feel like that would adhere to how incoherent it is. If it was all over the place anyway, just…um…but those were just two thoughts I had. Let’s go back to “Car Crash” real quick. So, at the end, there’s this line that I just like am still trying to figure out what it means to me, and so I wanted to ask you. It’s at the end. So, the wife realizes that the husband is dead, and she goes into the room with the doctor, and he talks about the screaming and how he would be chasing that screaming for his whole life. And he talked about how the super harsh light from the office that they’re in or whatever. But then it goes to him saying, “It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks. And you. You ridiculous people. You expect me to help you.” 

 

Luke:Yeah, to me that…so this particular story, I think was sort of that…like I was talking about with the sleeping bag. He set up his being in a position where he could be more heroic than he has been. Like, we keep thinking, “Okay, you’re there. You’re clearly not hurt, so your job right now in this moment is to get everybody out of the wreck.” It’s to start doing CPR, it’s to do everything you can to help these people, right? But this guy is fucked up on drugs. He, himself, is just a fucked-up person. And clearly he’s not the person to do that. And we’re learning that about him in this moment, I think. And I do love that this story is sort of told in that…it breaks that fourth wall every now and then, and the narrator speaks to us, the reader. 

 

James:Well, I took it to be like recounting tales.

 

Luke:Right. And then, yeah, that scream. Just to speak to that. That reminded me of the scene in Fight Club, where if you remember Tyler Durden threatens this guy with death about how he’s going to come and kill him if he doesn’t go to school and chase his dreams and all this stuff, right? And then, after he lets the guy go, he says that, like, his breakfast is going to be the best breakfast he’s ever tasted tomorrow and all this stuff. Like he’s going to feel more alive than ever. Well, in this situation, to me, the wife’s scream is such a powerful emotion, and it’s so true, and it shows loss and love and everything else that, to him, I think he’s kind of in search of, like, authentic life experiences throughout this.

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:And so I think that is so pure. To me, that’s what he meant when he said, “I’ve been searching for that scream ever since.” 

 

James:I like that, yeah. 

 

Luke:Well, let’s move on, because we’ve got a lot of stories to get through.

 

James:Okay, for “Two Men,” this is my little, short synopsis here. Leaving a dance, a mute man jumps in the narrator’s car, and they drive to multiple locations being guided by him. After finally dropping him off, they see another man that sold them bad cocaine, and they give chase.

 

Luke:Yeah, so this is a wild story, and to me, this shows, like…this is something where in story craft, they talk about setting up the status quo. And to me, this is the status quo we learn for his life. Like, this is what the average day looks like for him. 

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:He’s rolling around with other addicts. They’re doing crazy stuff. There’s a guy who may or may not actually be mute. It’s, you know, there’s a chase where the guy is chasing after the car, and then he runs into a stop sign. It’s wild. And then, yeah, he himself is threatening somebody, chasing somebody because they sold him bad drugs. And we can just see his life as, like, out of control in this moment. At this point in his life, right? To me, that’s what this story served. I think if I had read all of these stories not knowing they were part of a collection, and just viewing them each as independent stories, I think this is one I would have liked the least. Because it didn’t feel like…I mean it was just kind of a slice of life, I guess. Which could be okay. 

 

James:Well, a bunch of them are like that, too. A bunch of them end up being slightly…

 

Luke:Yeah, I agree with that. But, to me, this one was the most like that. I don’t know. For whatever reason, this is one that I wasn’t…because I was really into that first one. This one was one of the weaker ones for me, while still being very good. And, obviously, still having a lot of excellent sentences, really excellent prose in there.

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:I wasn’t as, like, compelled by this one.

 

James:So, this one for me was…you know, I’m working through it, and I’m trying to understand what’s going on. Because, so far, it’s just been the car crash. Like, this is my experience. 

 

Luke:Yeah. This is the next thing you get.

 

James:This is the next thing I get, and so I’m like, “What’s going on here? Who is this new narrator?” I’m trying to piece together if this is the same narrator. And I just feel like this entire thing was, even more than the first story, was full stream of consciousness. Like, whatever is happening is happening. And it felt like, to me, what you feel like when you’re awake what your dreams are like. So, it just felt like a dream. It’s like you’re walking to your car, and a mute man jumps in your car, and he’s telling you where to go, and you’re going to all these places, and then you go into a room and they’re talking about stuff that you don’t…like what does this have to do with anything else that’s going on? That’s how this story felt to me. It was just like, what does any of this mean?

 

Luke:It’s interesting, because it almost feels like he doesn’t have agency in the story. It’s so anathema for what we’re taught for storytelling. You want your characters to be driving the action.

 

James:Right. 

 

Luke:But so much of this feels like he’s being swept up by drugs. He’s being swept up by the people he’s with. And he gets caught up in these things, and he doesn’t act. So often. Like he doesn’t do anything. He’s just kind of there. 

 

James:And then the way that this story ends, like, I was trying to figure out if we had…if this was a new narrator, how unreliable this guy was. Because, clearly, he was unreliable because all of this crazy stuff was going on. But then, at the end, he runs in and is asking where this guy…he chased the guy into a house and he’s asking where that guy is, and the woman is saying that the guy is gone, and he’s like on vacation or something. And it’s like, okay, who is he even chasing? Was that just the drugs? That’s when I started realizing like, okay, this is all connected by the same characters and threads.

 

Luke:Yeah. And honestly, it is. Yeah, I think it is up to interpretation what is actually going on beneath all the…like, through all the drugs and everything, like what the actual truth is. I don’t know.

 

James:All right. So, “Out on Bail.” The narrator drinks with Jack Hotel. And then they get fucked up. Jack dies, and the narrator lives.

 

Luke:<laughs> Yeah. But I really liked this story. Now, I think it was pretty short. Like if it was standalone, I think it would be almost flash. I thought it was excellent, because it was these two guys who are in very similar places in their lives, and it’s like they’re having this buddy moment. They’re having that, like…they’re getting fucked up together and we’re enjoying life together, and we’re in a similar place, and we’re doing it for similar reasons. And then they go too far, but they’re both like fully in on it. They want to do this. And they take a ton of drugs, and then…I believe heroin. And they go home, and he just basically just states it. He went home, overdosed, and the people he was with at the time woke him up and saw to…I forget what they did, but they basically saw to it that he didn’t die and were able to keep him alive. His friend, who he was hanging out with. Same thing. He went home, and it was similar to something that happens in a later story, but basically he had his significant other he thought was going to be able to take care of him. And then that didn’t happen. And then he died. And yeah, the story ends with he died, and I’m still alive, basically. And to me, that was again that uncertainty. That, like, randomness in life. With a flip of the coin it could have been him.

 

James:So you get the sense that he’s grateful to be alive, at least. He’s like, “Oh, that sucks that Jack died, but I’m alive,” is kind of what I got out of it. 

 

Luke:I didn’t know if I thought grateful, as I thought more like just stating a fact. Statement: he died, and I lived.

 

James:I think you might be right there. But, I think why I came to that conclusion was just, earlier in the story they were having such a great time together being alive, and part of that joyous occasion…the side effect of that is that somebody might die. So, then his friend died, and I think he’s…I just took it to mean, like, okay I’m still alive. But basically what I’m trying to say is that, when he says I’m still alive, I got the sense that he’s not going to stop using. He’s going to continue to abuse, and tomorrow he might not be alive.

 

Luke:So, it didn’t change his life or anything. But, yeah, I do think there’s a little bit…to me, there’s a little bit of survivor’s guilt in there. Like, this is another thing for him to feel bad about. I think he almost feels bad that he’s the one that survived. Or he recognizes that he didn’t deserve to be alive. He just happened to survive that night. And the other guy didn’t.

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:Really interesting. Like, we could go through the story and just do a whole episode about it, and just like talk about everything that happens in it. There’s so much there…so much rich storytelling in every one of these, that you could get nitty-gritty and talk about lines. You know, you could spend 20 minutes on a paragraph. And I kind of wish we could do that. But it doesn’t really fit our format, so let’s move onto the next one.

 

James:All right. “Dundun.” My synopsis is it’s about an accident caused by drugs. They shot a guy and then were too messed up to drive. And then, so basically, they’re using. Everyone is in this barn, I believe. They’re using, and then somebody gets shot. And they try to take him to the hospital but wreck the car, and our narrator comes in and wants to be the hero and save the day and drive the car to the hospital, and then the guy who was shot dies on the way.

 

Luke:Man, there is an exchange in here that I do need to read. But, yeah, the guy has been shot, throughout they’re trying to figure out if they need to help him, and how serious is it, and he seems to be okay, and it’s unclear, and the two guys who are talking, our narrator and another character, are both out of their minds on drugs. One of them’s already crashed his car earlier in the story? 

 

James:Mmmhmm.

 

Luke:It’s like holding up a shed now. I think it was described. So they had to take the narrator’s car. And they’re going to take this guy to get him seen. Here, I’m going to read from this verbatim. So, they’re talking to him. “’Do you promise not to tell them anything?’ Dundun was talking to McInnes.” So, McInnes was the guy who got shot, Dundun is the other guy who’s with them. The other drug addict.

 

James:Who did the shooting.

 

Luke:Who did the shooting. And, uh…”’I don’t think he hears you,’ I said.” “I” is the narrator. “’Tell them it was an accident, OK? McInnes said nothing for a long moment. Finally, he said, ‘OK.’ ‘Promise?’ Dundun said. But McInnes said nothing because he was dead.” To me, that’s set up so brilliantly. So, he speaks in the previous line. He says nothing, And then he says, “OK.” And then Dundun says, “Promise?” but McInnes said nothing. But, even then you feel like he could then say something, but then the next line is “Because he was dead.” So, I just think from a craft perspective, that was brilliantly set up to be, like, a shocking twist. Like, not twist, but just a moment of expecting this guy to be alive, and all of a sudden he’s just not. He just dies. And then they decide, well now that he’s dead, we’re just going to kick him out of the car and not go in. Because we’re going to get in trouble.

 

James:When they said…from the moment they said he was dead, there was like a switch that was flipped, and they were like, all right, push him out of the car, I’m kind of glad that he’s dead because he gave me that Fuckhead nickname, and all these things are kind of…it was kind of like this flipped moment. But I have a question for you. And then I also want to say a line from this story. 

 

Luke:Okay.

 

James:Do you think Dundun shot him on purpose? Because we see here at the end, there’s a little epilogue thing where it says, like, he tortured somebody for something, and then he beat a man almost to death. Do you think there was an argument or something that happened that caused him to shoot the man?

 

Luke:Yes, I do. And whether or not he intended to hit him or if he intended to shoot next to him to frighten him or something, I don’t think it’s possible to know. So, I think that’s the ambiguity. Did he actually intend to shoot him, or did he intend to shoot his gun at him and maybe scare him and then he accidentally hit him. But either way, yeah, we see that Dundun is…yeah, a violent dude. It’s interesting, because the story wants us to find his humanity, though. He says, like…I feel like you don’t like him from the way I’m describing him, but he was actually a good dude. He’s just kind of telling us…that just underlines everything about this book. It’s like everybody you meet, no matter how reprehensible the shit they’re doing, this book tries to find their humanity, and it’s like nobody is a villain in this book. They’re all just people. 

 

James:Yeah, and there’s this line here that I wanted to read that is talking about just that. So, the narrator says, basically to set it up: yeah, Dundun is like a messed-up guy. And then he goes on to say, “But moving around a soldering iron in your brain will change you, too.” So, basically he’s saying what the drugs have done to his brain is just like taking a soldering iron and shoving it in there and mess up some of your components.

 

Luke:For sure. And that goes back to what you were talking about with this whole martyr idea, right? Because I feel like every one of these stories is showing our main characters, like, sinning and living a life of depravity, right? And, yeah, I like that…it’s like compounding and showing us that he’s done a lot of terrible things. And been around a lot of terrible things.

 

James:Yeah. And then I think the question that comes up continuously is forgiveness from them. Like, can these characters be forgiven? Can Dundun be forgiven for killing that guy? Can our narrator be forgiven for…you know…

 

Luke:A number of things.

 

James:Does he deserve to be forgiven?

 

Luke:Yeah.

 

James:Okay, so the next one is “Work.” Our narrator and a friend strip a house of old copper for money.

 

Luke:Ok, that’s your…yeah. This story was really cool to me. It’s him and this guy, and they go out and they strip this house that’s in…it’s almost like a ruin. It’s like a housing subdivision that went up, and then it flooded, so all the houses got abandoned, and they’re just like these leftover husks of home. And they’re out there, and they’re in this house stripping it of wire, and our narrator asks him, he says, “Whose house do you think this was?” And the guy says, “It’s mine.” And so we come to find out that apparently he had bought this, or who knows. And then there’s this crazy moment where they’re working, and then all of a sudden, a woman…like they hear the sound of a boat, and they look out the window, and they see this boat coming down like a canal or something. And there’s a woman on a kite, and she’s completely nude, and they just like fly by, and there’s this really funny moment where they’re like, “What’s she doing up there?” But it was obvious she was flying. I don’t know. So surreal, right? And so, after that, they leave the house, and they’re going to go get their money, and they stop along the way at this, like, random house by the side of the road, and they go in, and our narrator realizes that this is the wife of the man he’s with, and he has another awesome moment where he says, “It was like I had stumbled into a dream.” I was in his dream about his life with his house and his ex-wife and…

 

James:And honestly, I thought the drugs were doing that to him. I thought that he was somehow like…his trip or his, like, his high that he had was putting him into somebody’s dream and we were getting that crazy perspective. Because how else…how is she on a kite? 

 

Luke:Yeah. It was a very melancholy and sad story, but I really loved this one.

 

James:I actually felt like we had some happiness in here. For a very specific reason.

 

Luke:Yeah, you said it was a happy moment.

 

James:I liked the work aspect of it, right? So, these are people who are running around…like you said, their life is chaos. They’re constantly doing things that society is…just anti-society, basically. 

 

Luke:Yeah, stealing from people…

 

James:Yeah. 

 

Luke:Yeah.

 

James:So, to see this moment of them going and doing, like, hard labor, and our narrator huffing and puffing and he’s like dying, he needs water and…they’re really working and putting in a kind of an honest day’s work, even though it’s clearly not…

 

Luke:Well, I mean it’s called work for a reason, too. I think you’re right on, you know.

 

James:So, there at the end, they basically like…you know, they’re constantly living with this guilt because they’re not…like I said, they’re anti-society, so they’re not doing what society would have them do if…given the opportunity. So, they’re using drugs that are illegal, they’re stealing from people, they’re doing all these things, but this day, after this hard day’s work, they feel like they earned whatever they were going into. So, like, they earned their drinking, they earned their, potentially, drugs. And I thought that was interesting, because it’s kind of like an addict seeing the light through the trees, and being like, “Maybe I could have made a go at this” or “Maybe I still can. And just like have an honest worker’s mentality if I could just get away from this drug.

 

Luke:Yeah, and that’s a whole line of philosophical thought about that, too. Sisyphus pushing the rock, and you have to imagine that he was happy. And so you can be happy in labor, in the thing you’re doing. And yeah, I think there is definitely something about that. Something this started bringing up to me and started to solidify in my mind as we were reading, is how fucked-up our main character’s views are on women and the women he’s with. Because, to me, he always treats them like they are there to save them. He treats them like they’re other-worldly creatures, often comparing them to divine figures. Or like mothers. Mothers to him. Yeah, he really…I mean, and it fits the character, because this is a character who wants to be saved. And I think he goes into almost every relationship he has looking to be saved from someone. Or by someone. So, it’s always doomed to fail because often the people he’s with are just as fucked-up as he is. 

 

James:Right. So, the next one is “Emergency,” and I think you’re going to read the synopsis for this one, right?

 

Luke:Well, I don’t have a synopsis, but I just know this story really well, so... This is, I believe, the most famous story from this book. It’s definitely the one I’ve read the most. And, yeah. So, basically we’ve got Fuckhead, and he has another orderly named Georgie. And, hey, it’s like episode 1 all over again!

 

James:I know. I thought of that. 

 

Luke:And they’re working…there are these two guys, and they’re working at a hospital. They’re orderlies. And they’re both just out of their minds on drugs. Well, Georgie at first, and then our main character gets some from him. And Georgie is, like, cleaning up blood that’s not there anymore, and he’s out of his mind. And then this guy comes in with a hunting knife stuck through his eye all the way to the hilt. And he just walks in, and they’re like, “How did you get here?” And he’s like, “Oh, I walked over.” And he’s totally calm, and they bring him back, and they’re like, “Oh, we need to get you sitting down,” and he says, “I think I’d be ready for something like that.” It’s so…this is something that’s just genuinely funny and crazy. In a dark way, obviously. Then they buzz the doctor, and they’re like, “Oh, we got a surprise for you” in exam room whatever. And he shows up, and he freaks out, and he’s like, “We’re going to get the best damned brain doctor,” and they’re having this conversation in the other room, and they tell the orderly to go get him and get him cleaned while they’re talking about it, and they’re talking about how they’re going to get the best gasman to come in, and the guy’s like going crazy, because he’s in way over his head. He doesn’t know what to do. And then Georgie comes walking into the room, and he’s just holding the knife. And it’s so absurdly funny to me, and crazy. I don’t know. That was, to me, laugh-out-loud funny. In a really dark way. I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve read this story enough times. The first time, I think I was just shocked. But…how did that part play for you?

 

James:Well, I mean I thought it was hilarious. I loved it, too. The thing that kills me is that I…and that’s something I should say, honestly…with this story, I found myself re-reading so many times to really understand what was being said, and like because it’s so all over the place sometimes.

 

Luke:Well, when I told you for this one, I was like specifically, I told you to get the physical copy and not to do the audiobook. Because I think that is the way to read this. 

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:Where you can really go back and digest these things.

 

James:Yeah, and so, when he first came out, I was trying to understand if the guy had pulled the knife out on his own or if Georgie had done it. Once I realized Georgie had done it, it was really funny to me. But this story is…I think this is my favorite story from this. It’s like the perfect meld of all the different stories in one, because we get this crazy absurdness that goes on, and it’s kind of like, that guy shouldn’t even be alive anymore, so it’s like the surreal absurdist stuff. And then we get this other story, where they…

 

Luke:But then she says…the nurse keeps saying, like, “It’s one of those things.” Like, we’ve all heard about stuff like this actually happening. These crazy medical stories of people who are just fine from some ridiculous injury.

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:Right? And the guy doesn’t even lose his eye somehow, right? Like, he can still see out of it.

 

James:Yeah. So, then they leave, right? 

 

Luke:Yeah. They leave. They go driving out, and I forget where they’re going, but they hit a rabbit, and he’s like, “What was that?” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s a rabbit.” And they pull over, and he’s like, “We’ll cook it and we’ll feast on its haunches, and we’ll breakfast on it in the morning,” or something like that. And then, yeah, they find the rabbit. It was pregnant, and so it was full of all these baby rabbits, and then this other car drives up, and they’re like, “Is that a snake?” And he’s like, “No, it’s a rabbit. It’s got babies.” And the other car…it’s like a full family…they all just drive off. And then, yeah, he gives it over to Fuckhead, and he’s like, “Here, you hold ‘em. We gotta go and get ‘em milk, we gotta get ‘em sugar.” He’s like, “We killed the mother, but we’re going to save the babies.” Georgie is all excited again. So, we see Georgie behaving really…I think it’s really fascinating to think about how Georgie is behaving versus how our main character is. 

 

James:For sure.

 

Luke:So, then they go and they get stuck in like a blizzard…not a blizzard, like a snow storm. And they end up being at a drive-in. They walk to a drive-in. And he has this hallucination where he feels like he’s in a graveyard, and he’s seeing angels, but he’s actually in this drive-in. And then come to find out he just like sat on all the babies and squished them because he forgot about them, essentially. I just want to know what you were thinking throughout this story. <laughs>

 

James:That’s what I’m trying to say. It was so…this is the Lynchian stuff. I can’t predict anywhere that any of this is going in any way. 

 

Luke:Right.

 

James:And it was just, what does this mean? What is this for? Like going back and trying to find meaning. Like, what does a rabbit have to do with what’s going on here. And, like, the drive-in theater, I was like, “What the theater?” It’s like a graveyard. And it’s just like so much.

 

Luke:Oh, so we also see Georgie. He has this hunting knife now. He calls it his hunting knife. He doesn’t know where he got it. And then, at the end, we see the guy who came in with the knife is getting checked out, and he meets Georgie, and Georgie doesn’t know who he is. He’s like, “Who are you supposed to be?” So, the story ends with them picking up a hitchhiker who they knew, who is AWOL from the war. They’re going to take him to Canada, but they guy asks Georgie, “What do you do for a job?” And Georgie says, “I save lives.” Which is where the story ends.

 

James:So, my question of things I was thinking about is just Georgie as a character and what this means. He kind of talks about, at one point, when they were taking the babies out, “I should have been a doctor. I should have been a surgeon,” or whatever. Is he just insanely lucky, or is this a commentary on…is he like a genius, or like, not necessarily a genius, but is he just so…like the things he could have been if he wasn’t an addict, the things he could have done. Or is he just incredibly lucky all throughout?

 

Luke:I think he’s deluded a little bit in thinking that he could do these things. I don’t think he would make a good doctor.

 

James:But, I’m saying, do you think the commentary is that, if he wasn’t…maybe he could have done these things?

 

Luke:Maybe. What I do think is going on is that Georgie genuinely wants to be a better person in this moment. He wants to be heroic. He wants to save the rabbits. And maybe he’s super fucked-up, just like our main character. In like almost every single way, right? They’re very close. He says, “There’s one major difference between us.” And I think at this point in the story, at least, our main character has not yet decided he wants to be a better person. But I think Georgie does. I think maybe that’s a lesson here that you learn. Maybe we start to see that rub off on him throughout the rest of the book. Because, yeah, to me that’s the key difference. To me, Georgie wants to do the right thing. He totally fucked up, and he’s on drugs, and he’s messing things up, and doing things the wrong way. But, yeah, I think he ultimately has a good heart, and he wants to help, and he wants to do the right thing, and he wants to be heroic. And that’s not something we’ve really gotten out of our main character.

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:So, back to the sort of absurdity of life and trying to find meaning, right? To me, the rabbit is sort of a microcosm of that, because it’s just random tragedy that happens, and we immediately see Georgie trying to find meaning. And the first thing he does is try to find meaning in sort of the natural order. “I have slain this rabbit, and now I’m going to eat it, and it’s going to sustain me, and it’s going to be like a hunter, or like a predator in the wild.” It’s going to be natural. Right? But then when he sees it has babies, it shifts, and now he’s going to save the baby and let the mother die, and that is sort of like a doctor. Like you said, you know. For me, this is Georgie actively trying to…he sort of enlists our narrator. He says, “You’re going to help me in this. We’re going to do this together.” And, once again, our narrator is just kind of along for the ride, and he’s like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll do it.” But then he ends up fucking it up, and Georgie yells at him and says, “Everything you touch goes to shit.” Like, why do you fuck everything up? Fuckhead is a good name for you. And he gets mad at him, right? And our narrator is like, “Yeah, it’s true.” He’s like, “I’m not arguing with you. I’m agreeing with you.” He’s like…he says, like, “I agreed with you before you even said that.” Like, I preemptively agreed with you. <laughs> So that’s kind of how our narrator is. He feels like he is beyond forgiveness, and he’s not a good person.

 

James:Like I’ve said before, I feel like I need to re-read this story already because of a couple of details I have now. Not this story, this entire book. Because when I was reading it, I wasn’t thinking of it chronologically. So, I felt like this was a random moment in time. So, to think of it like maybe this is the moment where maybe we see a turn in our main character to him being more compassionate…

 

Luke:I’m not 100% sure that every story after this definitely comes after this, but I do think it falls on a timeline in which maybe this is a turning point for him.

 

James:Yeah. And so I saw it as more of a standalone turning point. Like, it’s like a moment where he realizes he should be good. And I think he sees Georgie like this beacon. He’s clearly wanting to be a good person, wanting to do the right thing. And I think of the drugs for both of them. Because, how much easier would it be for Georgie to be a better person if he wasn’t on the drugs. I think it’s just continuously making it so that our characters are realizing that, if they were able to get off the drugs…but then again, I don’t see any sort of want in them to get clean. In this story, at least. 

 

Luke:I don’t think they’ve yet connected drugs to the problems in their lives. I think that’s something that early on and through much of the story, drugs are just another avenue for them to escape. And I don’t think they…yeah, it’s interesting because the idea of him…at some point, he’s just in rehab, I think. This, to me, is the only thing that makes me think I can see why maybe he goes that route. Or the work story, maybe. But, yeah, we don’t get those exact thoughts: “Yeah, I’m going to go to rehab for this reason.” We never get that. But, yeah, let’s move on. We got more stories to get through.

 

James:Okay, so the next one is “Dirty Wedding.” The narrator likes to ride trains. He tells three stories about people. One about taking his girlfriend for an abortion, the other about a man in a laundromat, and finally he meets a girl on a train who takes him to find drugs. 

 

Luke:Yeah, so this is a really dark story. It leads off with him taking his girlfriend to get an abortion. And, for me, this is like…because we just had this sort of high point and, to me, this is the complete opposite direction. 

 

James:Mmhmm.

 

Luke:And, maybe he’s saying something about life being messy in that way, too. Like, there are no…in our lives it isn’t just an arc that you can trace. It is more up and down. And here we see, to me, he’s almost at one of his most reprehensible moments here. With how he’s behaving and how little responsibility he’s taking for anything. 

 

James:And there’s like a couple of different stories going on in this story, and the abortion clearly is the one that is, I think, most important to this story. But there’s also his suppressed sexuality that we’re getting a touch of, and we’re also getting like…

 

Luke:Maybe. I wasn’t clear about that. Yeah, because there’s a moment when he has an erection, when he’s followed this guy to a place…but then the guy also seems like he looks like Jesus, or he feels like he’s Jesus. 

 

James:Yeah, I think he’s just saying, like, Jesus on the cross-type-thing. Like, there’s something about religion there again. But there’s a moment when he takes his shirt off. I think triggers the erection. So, that’s like why he followed this guy. Because he’s realizing like, his…he’s surprised by his attraction to this guy. And then we get a little bit of it later, too. But I think that was planting the seeds for a later story. But it’s just interesting to me that, in this story about abortion, we’re also getting something potentially about his sexuality.

 

Luke:Yeah.

 

James:But we go into this portion where, what I saw, was due to grief. Potentially the abortion and then other life choices. His girlfriend or his wife…I think it’s his girlfriend at this point. She ends up with another guy, and she overdoses and leaves him a note on  his pillow.

 

Luke:But then he’s just as fucked-up as she is, which is that’s a recurring thing in this book—looking for help from someone who is in just as bad a situation as you are.

 

James:And maybe that’s saying something about addiction being selfish, too. There’s something about using in general. Maybe not necessarily the addiction tied to it. 

 

Luke:You’re looking out for yourself. 

 

James:And maybe it’s like, even in “Car Crash,” where he saves the baby. That was a rare moment, but then he just goes to the semi and sits in the semi instead of continuing to help.

 

Luke:Well, he doesn’t even know why he has the baby. He’s like, “I don’t…” He doesn’t even know why. He just has it. 

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:So, yeah. I like that. And there’s something about, like, these people trying to rely on each other and the tragedy being that, like, they are unable to provide anyone else with anything when they’re so caught up in their own shit. Like you said, selfish addictions, and their own lives. And trying to find their own way. And when someone tries to rely on them, we see so many characters letting people down in this book, left and right. And it leads to people dying. It’s tragic.

 

James:Yeah. We get the thing at the end, where our narrator is talking about abortion, and he’s talking about kind of what scientists and people would argue about when the baby is alive, and kind of…his argument is that it’s not necessarily about…like basically, that’s wasted time in talking about when the baby is alive. It’s like the effect that either having or not having that baby is going to have on the baby, and also their lives.

 

Luke:So, I’m going to read that paragraph because I think there’s a lot going on there. Here’s the final paragraph of this one, where we learn that the girlfriend died from overdose, and then we also learn that the new boyfriend ends up committing suicide. Which I think also shows…because the whole time he’s been talking about how much he loved his girlfriend, but when she dies, it’s the new boyfriend who ends up killing himself, basically out of grief. Not him. So, once again, he isn’t quite there. He isn’t quite there. I don’t know, he’s less thansomebody else. Right? Like, we see often…

 

Anyway, here’s the final paragraph, where he’s talking about the abortion in particular. “I know they argue about whether or not it’s right. Whether or not the baby is alive at this point or at that point in its growth inside the womb. This wasn’t about that. It wasn’t what the lawyers did. It wasn’t what the doctors did. It wasn’t what the woman did. It was what the mother and father did together.” I don’t know that he’s trying to  make any statements about abortion here, to me. To me, this is about him saying, “I don’t know about all that, but this story isn’t about that. It’s about the mother and father and what they did together.” The whole, like, creating the baby and going through with everything that happened in their lives and putting themselves in a situation where this was their lives. And that, I think, was the point of the story; not necessarily trying to get into it. It is interesting, though, because there is a moment in the story, too, where he talks about the ghost of the unborn child. He can feel, like, around him or something. It’s like a surreal moment, too. Yeah, it’s interesting, because there are a couple stories in here where this is an extremelyloaded topic, right? And it’s going to be a very…whoever you are listening to this now, you have an opinion about this, and it’s probably very strongly held. And I…you know…I have my own opinions about it, but I don’t know if they’re right. And I think that’s what Denis Johnson is saying here. Like, he’s like, “I don’t know if I’m right, or who’s right in this discussion, but this story I’m telling you is more about us as people than it is about the abortion itself,” I guess. And maybe it’s like what led to it.

 

James:I think he’s saying, like, what happened after. Okay, so the next one is “The Other Man.” The narrator meets a traveling man and, only after hanging out, does he find out that he lied about being Polish originally. Then he finds out that this guy is actually from Cleveland. He’s like a traveling salesman or something like that. Then the story moves to Seattle, where he’s going to meet friends, and then he…

 

Luke:So, he meets him on the Sound, which is the body of water in Seattle. And they’re like on a ferry or something. And then they go into town, and they go to a bar called Kelly’s. And they have drinks together. 

 

James:Right. So, then, after that story is done, and basically what he doesn’t realize is that…in the moment, he doesn’t realize that this guy is actually making a pass at him, like trying to come onto him. And he doesn’t realize this, but the way he describes it is, “I would tell people this story later, and they would tell me, ‘Clearly this guy was trying to come onto you, and you didn’t realize that.’” Which, again, we’ll talk about that. Then he talked about how he’s trying to meet friends in Seattle, and he’s not able to meet up with them, so he goes to a bar and meets a girl and ends up hooking up with her having this interesting…

 

Luke:That’s when he goes to Kelly’s, actually. That’s when he goes to Kelly’s. The other one was a different bar, I forget. I don’t know what it was named. Yeah, so he meets a girl, and she’s married, but then they end up going back to her place anyway and hooking up.

 

James:And lying or something and saying that he’s related. 

 

Luke:But it’s also really…again, it’s talked about in this really magical way, where he says, “The torn moon mended, and our fingers touched away the tears.” And he says, “It was there.” Which I also thought was really ambiguous. Like, what was there? 

 

James:I think that, to me, was them having sex. Like that was them…all of those things pointed me to them having sex. But maybe…did you get something different.

 

Luke:I think it’s more than that. To me, a lot of these random hookups and stuff…it’s like these two broken people—he finds out that she had just gotten married a few days before, and clearly this is a fucked-up situation, and she’s got her own issues. And the way they’re talking about tears, and they’re sort of attracted to each other…I don’t know. There’s something sort of like, almost like chemistry…like a reaction happening. And when they’re together, it’s a really powerful and fleeting moment, that they both know is fleeting, yet there’s a certain…they can come together and share a moment and feel alive and maybe feel a little bit better just for a short amount of time. And that also shows to me how a lot of his romantic relationships are much like drugs to him, too. Right? But I wanted to back up a little bit. So, we went to Seattle last time you were here. 

 

James:Mmhmm.

 

Luke:And we hung out on St. Patrick’s Day at a bar in Seattle, and I want to say that bar was called Kelly’s. It was like an Irish bar, do you remember?

 

James:I remember the bar. I just don’t remember the name of it. 

 

Luke:I’m like picturing it, and I swear to God it was called Kelly’s. It might not be. I might be completely wrong, but when I read that story, I was like, “Holy shit, it’s the same place!” So, I felt like it was the same place, which I thought was pretty crazy. St. Patty’s Day at the bar, we were drinking Irish whiskey, we talked to some random dude, like my sister was here, too. It was a crazy night, and when I was reading the story, I totally thought of it. 

 

James:Yeah. That was a fun night.

 

Luke:How crazy would it be if it was the same bar?

 

James:That would be crazy if it was the same place. That would be insane. We gotta figure that out.

 

Luke:We gotta look that up.

 

James:I also wanted to jump back for this story really quickly, because I wanted to talk about something that was really great. The planning of the story, even though it seemed like it’s not planned. There was a story earlier on that we read. I think it’s the fourth one, or the third one, called “Two Men.” And it’s about the mute man. And the way that the story ends, it just kind of abruptly ends, and we only ever hear about one man. And the way that this story starts…this story is called “The Other Man,” and the way that this story starts is, he’s like, “But…” He finishes the story that was before this, so there’s been like three or four in between. And then he’s like, “But. I haven’t finished telling you about the two men. I’ve only told you about the first man.” So, he starts the story off by talking about the guy that was coming onto him, that was saying that he was Polish, but he was from Cleveland. 

 

Luke:Which also was like crazy and funny. He had all these crazy stories about Poland he was telling, and then he goes to the bathroom, and he comes back out, and he’s like, “Ah, man, I’m just from Cleveland.” Did you see that coming at all?

 

James:No way. 

 

Luke:I thought this guy was legit.

 

James:No. Yeah, I agree. I thought he was legit. And I also didn’t realize, until you said anything about it, about that coming onto him thing. So, what does that mean for the story? That’s my question. Because sexuality was brought up right before this, and then it seems that he’s, like, maybe repressing…like, he’s actively not seeing signs of somebody coming onto him. Is that just his obliviousness, or is that him not actively engaging with something that he might see subliminally or something, or maybe like in the back of his mind?

 

Luke:I think he has trouble differentiating between romantic interest and just, like, human interest. And he has trouble in his own life with that. Whenever he meets a woman, I think…if he’s ever interested in a woman, he’s then also immediately romantically interested in the woman. Like, he can’t differentiate between the two. And so, for here, I remember that he was very interested in this guy, who was from Poland and he had this new rental car, and he was out enjoying his life. And he was like, “I just really wanted to be him.” And he was just really attracted to this guy’s humanity. And, so I think when he saw that kind of being reflected, and the guy was giving it back to him, he didn’t realize that this guy was seeing something romantic, in my opinion. Because he…I think he has difficulty differentiating what those two things look like. And, and…I don’t know. You can say, in repressed sexuality, and maybe…I think there’s definitely a way you can read this book and see that. I guess that didn’t occur to me that it was happening that way, but maybe it is. I don’t know. Ready for “Happy Hour”?

 

James:Yes, let’s do “Happy Hour” next. So my synopsis here is: the narrator recounts going to happy hours and then takes drugs with a belly dancer, who he likes.

 

Luke:Yeah. <laughs> So, this is a…there is a really interesting moment where he goes to a library. He feels sort of crushed by all these words around him, right? And so this was me going, like, oh, this is a version of Denis Johnson who isn’t a writer, and who…Denis Johnson, when he was having a lot of these same struggles, turned to writing and found meaning through that. And he was able to describe his world through his language. And then I quickly abandoned that, because we later see the character saying he’s a writer. But, in this moment, it made me feel that way. And maybe this is a point in his life where he hadn’t decided to become a writer yet. I don’t know.

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:But, to me, like if you think of writing as just another one of those things where he’s like looking for meaning, and maybe that something that sort of saved him and pulled him out of this was his own art. Which I think is interesting to think about.

 

James:I didn’t know his backstory when I was reading it, but I totally see that now. It definitely seems to be something that…I mean, I don’t know when he started writing, but clearly he became a successful writer after dealing with addiction or something like that…you have to pour yourself into something in order to avoid the addiction. So, I think it’s got to have been writing.

 

Luke:So, he said that, during his addiction, which was like his entire 20s.

 

James:Mmhmm.

 

Luke:Um, he published, I think 20 or 30 poems and a handful of short stories. So, that’s not nothing.

 

James:No.

 

Luke:So, he was publishing. But, he said over the course of ten years, that was all he did. So, he didn’t feel like that was a lot. Then, as soon as he got clean, he went on to have the most prolific time of his career. He wrote this book, he went on to win awards, he wrote plays and stuff. So, I think he does feel like his addiction was definitely keeping him from being creative.

 

James:Right. So, the next one is “Steady Hands at Seattle General.” The story here is the narrator is in a detox center, talking to another man about the future.

 

Luke:Yeah, so this is what I was talking about. All of a sudden, he’s in rehab now. And I think at the end of the last story, he’s taking a pill of mushrooms or something, so he’s like doing more drugs. 

 

James:I have a question, though. I’m not familiar enough to know, but is detox…is that full-on rehab, or is that just to keep you from…like, do you have to wean your body off of it because your body needs certain chemicals.

 

Luke:I don’t know. I definitely don’t know the difference between all those. It may be exactly what you said. I don’t know. But it does remind me of this story. It’s very clear that…he’s just doing this for the first time. But what was cool…well, what was interesting was that he liked it. He was like, “I really like this place.” 

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:“They gave me really good drugs, and I feel good here,” and like, he was happy, right? And he’s talking to this guy, and they have this awesome conversation, where he says, “I’m going to write about this in a poem or a story. How should I describe you?” And the guy is like, “I’m fat.” And he’s like, “No, no, no. I’m going to write about this. Tell me how you want me to describe me.” And he’s like, “Just say I’m fat.” 

 

James:No, no, no. He says—

 

Luke:He says, “I don’t want to describe you that way.” And then he…go ahead.

 

James:No, he’s like…at first he says he’s fat, and then he says, “But I’m going to write about you in a story or whatever,” and then he says, “Then say I’m overweight.”

 

Luke:<laughing> Yeah, I just love it, because we’re reading that. So, it just feels so right. Like he really had this conversation with this guy, and he put it in there verbatim. Like, “This is the conversation we had about it.” And then he’s…is he, like, shaving this guy? I forget exactly…

 

James:He shaves a mustache at one point, yeah.

 

Luke:He’s like shaving his mustache or something, and he sees that the guy has a bullet hole through one cheek and then like an exit wound in the other cheek that’s, like, bigger. And then we find out this guy has been shot multiple times by his wives over the years, and he’s not as enthused about being here, and he’s like, “I’m older than you. I’ve been here a bunch of times, you know…that’s fucked up.” And then I took a picture of the end of this story and put it on our Instagram. And it’s because I absolutely love the way it ends. I’ll back up a little bit and give you a little more than is on the Instagram. Here we go. This is the end of that story, where they’re just talking about whether or not they’re going to be okay.

 

“I can see you living here two weeks out of every month.”

“Well, I’m older than you are. You can take a couple more rides on this wheel and still get out of here with all your arms and legs stuck on right. Not me.”

“Hey. You’re doing fine.”

“Talk into here.”

“Talk into your bullet hole?”

“Talk into my bullet hole. Tell me I’m fine.”

 

So, I just love that exchange. “Talk into my bullet hole.” It’s like an older version of himself, right?

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:Who’s maybe not…it’s like is this the first moment where we’ve met somebody who maybe is more pessimistic about life than our main character? Because, up until now, he has always been the most fucked-up, the most pessimistic person in the room, I feel like. 

 

James:Yeah, and I think this is our main character if he doesn’t get clean. Like, I think that’s the path…like, maybe this is a moment where he realizes this guy is this way, and it’s a motivational thing for him going forward, to be clean.

 

Luke:So, what’s also great about it is that the bullet hole is a scar, and it’s proof of…it’s like the leftover thing about something that happened in his life, and even if this guy moves on in his life, he’s always going to have that scar. I think that’s what he’s saying when he says, “Speak into my bullet hole” or whatever. Because, like, he’s always going to have this now, and just the idea of that…I think that’s true. As much as our main character is trying to move on from his sins, he’s not going to be able to ever fully move on from them. There’s things that you can’t escape. It is your past now, and in some senses, it’s been written and it can’t be unwritten. I guess.

 

James:Right. And it’s also like he says…you’re going to be okay. And he’s like, “Speak into my bullet hole,” and it’s like his way of saying, “I’m already not okay.” Like, it’s not like I can become…

 

Luke:This is proof that I’m not okay.

 

James:Yeah. Yeah. So, this is the last one here, and it’s “Beverly Home.” Narrator works in a care facility, and he peeps in on a Mennonite couple on his way to work each day. He’s also working on being sober and finds a community with others.

 

Luke:Yeah, so the story takes a turn here. I totally didn’t see it coming. I feel like he was doing well. He’s working at this place, and he goes around…I don’t know if it’s his job, but part of the thing he does there is he touches people, which at first sounded creepy to me, but then it’s like…it actually is really sweet, almost. These people who just don’t get human contact, and he just like touches their arms, rubs their hair, or whatever. And they all really enjoy it. He’s giving contact to people. I love that he’s working somewhere with all these people who are cast out of society, whether they’re elderly or they’re crippled, or they have some sort of problem. At one point, there was a character who has, like, cerebral palsy, and he says that he’s openly and honestly fucked-up now. He can’t hide it any more. Like the rest of us, basically. So, it’s interesting, it’s almost like he’s saying, “I am like that on the inside.” But this guy is like that on the outside.

 

James:Yeah, and he’s in his own words referring to all these people as weirdos. And he sees…

 

Luke:Including himself.

 

James:Including himself, yeah. So, he sees himself becoming a part of this community and finding, like, a place where he belongs. And doesn’t he end up hooking up with a woman who has some sort of stroke or something?

 

Luke:There are two different women in this story. The first one is a woman who has dwarfism, and he’s dating her for a while. And it seems like he’s really into it with her, yet there’s this thing where they can’t, like, have sex without certain TV shows playing in the background, and then he’s always gone in the morning before she wakes up or something. Because it seems like he’s afraid of some sort of intimacy with her. Like, he can’t quite get to that point. For whatever reason. I don’t know. And then, yeah, later on in the story, he’s with a girl who is paralyzed. Like, half of her body is paralyzed, and that’s like one of the most intense relationships he has.

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:And, obviously, there’s a lot of thematic…he calls her crippled, and I think he’s comparing her kind of exterior, being half paralyzed, to him. He feels like he’s crippled on the inside.

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:This is a guy who feels like he’s broken. And then, yeah, what’s going on through all this. His personal growth, and he’s getting better. Is that he’s also stopping every day and, at first he hears singing. He goes over and looks in somebody’s bathroom window and sees a woman, naked and showering, and just like peeps at her. And then he decides he’s going to come back and do that again every day. And then the husband comes home, and then he, like, gets away, right? And then he starts doing this every day. It becomes a habit. He keeps seeing her showering, and then he starts watching them together, and he finds out that they’re some sort of very traditional religious couple—Mennonite, he believes. And then he becomes obsessed with catching them having sex. He needs to see them have sex. And then, literally, there’s a point where he thinks they are having sex, but then it seems like maybe they weren’t. They were actually having an argument. That was interesting, too. Right? Like that kind of means something, too. Then, the husband washes her feet in the final…oh, and she also likes throws open the blinds, and he’s standing there, but she doesn’t see him. Because she can only see her own reflection. So, that all to me feels like super heavy loaded symbolic stuff is going on.

 

James:For sure.

 

Luke:Aw, man. I still feel like I’m trying to figure it all out. So, I definitely wanted to know what was going on there to you.

 

James:I think it had something to do with the religious aspect, obviously. I think that he is…there’s some representation here that I don’t know that I can really make. I don’t know if I have the knowledge to back it up. But I think there’s some sort of…yeah, like he represents something by staring in at their relationship, and he’s like almost violently wanting to see them have sex. Like, is that some sort of like…?

 

Luke:He even mentions at one point imagining himself raping her.

 

James:Yeah.

 

Luke:Which was crazy.

 

James:And then when they’re having their argument, he thinks they’re having sex. And he wants to, like, bust the window so he can see. Because he feels like he’s being cheated. And so I think it’s this really intense…I don’t know if it’s like a devil or demonic symbolism or something, but…again, I don’t really have the background to make this argument, but I think there’s definitely something there.

 

Luke:Yeah, to me, just from the character, to me this is proof of, like, his bullet hole, right? He is scarred by the things that have happened to him. And this is proof that he’s still broken, even as he’s in the process of healing. And that’s why they say, you know, “When you’re an alcoholic, you’re always an alcoholic, you’re just an alcoholic who’s in recovery.” And, to me, that’s the thing. He can always backslide, and this is kind of him backsliding. He’s at a meeting at one point, actually, and a guy says that he used to just walk around, and he would look in houses and think about people’s normal lives in there while he’s just carrying his sins behind him in, like, a wagon or something. And then that upsets our narrator so much that he has to leave and go outside, and he’s dumbstruck by it.

 

James:Right.

 

Luke:I think that’s saying that he recognizes that this is kind of what he’s doing in this moment. And it’s something about this couple’s life is so…he can’t understand it. And they have found peace through their belief in God, but then they also seem so normal, and he has to see them, like, fuck, because I think that would show they’re human and not just some sort of otherworldly creature, which is kind of what he views them as, like some otherworldly beings. 

 

James:And I think there’s something there about the purity of, like…I don’t know…abstinence…I don’t know. Just the act of…in his eyes, the act of having sex is, like, somewhat dirty or there’s something about it. And he wants to see this couple who is, like, pure…like, in his eyes, do something filthy or dirty. So.

 

Luke:Right. He wants to drag them down to his level in some way. Yeah. And then, yeah, when she throws open the blinds, and they’re like face to face…and I was like, “Oh, shit. This is the moment.” But she doesn’t see him. She only sees her own reflection, and she’s like upset. It was very kind of theatrical, like she was kind of putting on a show for her husband to come and apologize. But yeah, he just stands there. He’s shocked, and he can’t move, and he’s just looking at her. And then the idea that he’s in darkness, and she literally can’t see him. I feel like that…I don’t know, that means something to me about, like, people like that, or that part of society not understanding. And there’s like a divide between that and the other side of society—people who are struggling and people who are in his situation, and how there is sort of a disconnect there, and the two can’t really see each other. Or can’t see each other in a healthy way.

 

James:Right. 

 

Luke:I don’t know. I’m trying to just like figure out what that could possibly mean. I pulled it all out of my ass. I don’t know.

 

James:It’s all just so hard to interpret. You can draw so many things from it.

 

Luke:That’s the other thing. I’m sure there is a ton of, like, literary writing, academic papers, and Ph.D. theses that have been written about this book out there, and I didn’t read any of them on purpose, because I wanted to give my personal reaction to this. It had been a long time since I’d read it, and a lot of these stories were just vague memories. Other than, like, “Emergency” and “Car Crash.” There’s a couple that I remembered really well, but most of them I didn’t. So, yeah, this was just kind of my reaction and your reaction. This is just what you thought, and I didn’t want that to be influenced by all these other things that have been written about this book. Because there’s a lot out there, and I think this is a highly interpretive text. In my opinion. You could very well read this book and get a lot of different stuff out of it than what we got. 

 

James:For sure. Yeah, I mean this was such a fun experience, and I honestly, genuinely think that I’m going to go out of my way to read a lot more stuff like this because it’s just unlike anything else.

 

Luke:Yeah, if you, the listener, have any recommendations…obviously, since we really enjoyed this…if you have any books that you know that you would feel like are in the same realm as this, definitely send them our way. Especially if they have an adaptation, because that’s kind of a requirement. We need that as the excuse to read them. But, yeah, I mean I’m also just curious about books, so you can just tell me.

 

All right, so I mentioned earlier that I really wanted to hear your take on how you might adapt something like this. And I do want to hear that, but I’m going to have you save it for the very end. That will be the last thing we talk about.

 

James:Okay, cool. If you wanted to find us on social media, we’re on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All of those on @InkToFilm. We also have our Facebook group, Council of Inklings. 

 

Luke:Yeah, we wanted to thank SK Nash for becoming a Patreon fairly recently. She was someone I met at WorldCon. She was super nice, I talked to her about the podcast, and she ended up following it, and yeah, she’s a Patreon now. So, thank you so much for supporting us. We really appreciate it. You help keep this thing going. If you guys wanted to find out how to become Patreons yourself: Patreon.com/InkToFilm. You can find out about bonus episodes, special swag, different things we’re offering. Check it out.

 

James:If you wanted to help us out in another way, you can leave a rating or review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

 

Luke:And we wanted to thank Jennifer Della’Zanna for doing our transcriptions. So, I want to hear. So, you are given the task…although this does not say…you don’t have to write the script…but what you do…you’re going to work with a scriptwriter, and what he wants you to do…say it’s me…I want you to tell me, how are we going to take these stories and just, like, briefly, just to get us started, how are we going to come up with a movie about this? How are we going to possibly craft this into a cinematic tale?

 

James:To me, and this is just like my perspective on books that I’ve read, this feels like a super experimental book. I feel like this isn’t something that you normally do. So, what I want to do is we gotta dive into experimental filmmaking. We don’t have to go quite as deep as scratching…like, taking film and scratching it to make it. But what I think is…

 

Luke:Go full Lynchian?

 

James:Yeah. <laughter> First of all, I think we have to adapt it very closely. I would definitely try to make it feel like an anthology-type thing. So, each one would have its own title card, and then we’d go into it, and it would be very formally separated, but also have those through-lines showing up.

 

Luke:Okay.

 

James:Then the other thing is, from a form perspective, we definitely have to have…I don’t know if you’ve seen, like,Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

 

Luke:Mmhmm. Yeah.

 

James:There’s like the scene where they’re high, and it’s just so surreal and so…like you were saying, just go full Lynchian is what I’m trying to say. And just like…

 

Luke:And have drug sequences and…

 

James:Yeah. We have to, like, be in the perspective of our narrator, so let’s just go like balls to the wall.

 

Luke:Are we going voice-over?

 

James:Oh, for sure. Yeah.

 

Luke:Yeah, I think so, too. Because there’s so many great lines in this book. And the way you can get them into this movie is to have our character thinking them. Because we can’t possibly put them all in dialogue. It would be unnatural. But to have him thinking some of this shit, I think it would be really compelling. All right, man. That sounds good to me. I’m going to be really curious to see what the movie that was made, if they go that route at all or if they go a completely different way. The only thing I know is that Jack Black is in it, and I believe he plays Georgie. 

 

James:What I will say is that I don’t think the movie I just described would be financially successful, but I think it would be a lot of fun, and I think a lot of people would appreciate it.

 

Luke:Cool, man. Well, I’m excited to watch this movie now because I’ve never seen it. You’ve never seen it, so we’re going in blind, and we really loved this book. I’m glad you loved it, because this was a really fond memory…a formative thing in my writing was reading this book.

 

James:It was awesome that I was able to talk about it with you. Absolutely. Loved this book.

 

Luke:All right. Until next time.

 

James:Thanks for listening.

 

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