Thursday, December 5, 2013

2013 in Shit: Love is the Law

I suspect much of it is particular to me, but Love is the Law is the second novel by Nick Mamatas that I've read (the other being Bullettime) and the second that I've largely bounced off. To be fair, I have felt the same way about all of his short fiction I've read as well. I dig his blog though. And his magazine.

Love is the Law is a short crime novel about a Marxist Crowleyite named Dawn, set in Long Island in the early stages of neoliberalism's being imported back to the colonial center.

As with Bullettime’s Erisian school shooting, and Arbeitskraft’s steampunk Engels, I figured there was enough there that I was more or less guaranteed to dig it on some level; and as with those two, I came away feeling like Mamatas is, for no reason I can pinpoint, a writer whose works I admire and don’t really care for.

I kind of don't want to write this? Because on the one hand I think Nick Mamatas seems real cool, and on the other I don't particularly give a shit about any of his work. And on the other other hand it seems really unlikely that he won't see this review at some point, which inclines me to both suppress and to enhance my dislike of the book, for conflicting reasons. The genre fiction community is basically just a populist form of marketing, and it's pretty hard to avoid engaging it exclusively in screeds or passive acceptance.

But hey, I do feel hella ambivalent about this book, and I don't really care if anyone reads it or doesn't, ever. So yeah. The book.

Dawn is a just-out-of-high school punk rock girl whose magickal mentor she finds dead. She decides to get to the bottom of it (the apparent suicide doesn't sit well when she realizes the gun was in his non-dominant hand), and in doing so explores the underbelly of the suburban island she lives in, from performance art metal shows in squats to hyperfactionalist Trotskyite perpetual graduate students. Diversions through discussions about things like how Long Island's urban planner designed the community as a reactionary stronghold are the books biggest strength, in my mind at least, tying Crowleyite magick with Marxist analysis together in their divergent focus on material conditions and symbolic effects; it gets, that is to say, how these ideological modes synthesise despite their opposing tendencies, and it is (should be?) cool as hell to see that, as someone who has, at various points, had a lot of interest in both things.

And on top of that, it is perfectly willing to refuse to localise these things, setting the novel in the rise of neoliberal capital because it is a novel about the rise of neoliberal capital, and referencing the fall of the Berlin Wall because it is an important event in the psychic lives of the characters, which are not some irreducible bourgeois interiority but a processual expression of various aspects of the mode of production. Do you get why I'm surprised I bounce off this yet? If you can figure it out let me know.

In terms of things I care for less but people generally seem to ascribe high value to, the narrative itself is tightly drawn and doesn't pull punches; this isn't the story of the ascendance of a future cop via vigilantism that so many crime novels suggest themselves to be, thankfully. Even when those digressions I mentioned above happen they are quick and to the point, conveying information economically and remaining firmly under the shadow of the plot as it moves on. And hey, while I'm at it, it is a pretty well written book at the sentence level too; like I've been saying, nearly everything about this book is solid to great, except that it inspired in me nothing but ambivalence. Place is drawn convincingly, as are characters, whether in broad strokes or incidental details. The novel's climax manages to juggle being high pulp, sociological commentary and narrative peak. It's impressive. I felt much being-impressed while reading.

I thought, after reading Bullettime, that I would have seen it as transformative had I read it, say, in late high school; after having an equally tepid reaction to Love is the Law I am less sure of that. Certainly some degree of my ambivalence has to do with, say, how influential The Illuminatus! Trilogy was on my reading habits, and how relatively rigid my critical practice is after so long. But much of what attracted me in the Roberts' epic, or, say, in Danielewski, was, I think, in their messiness of form, in how in many ways they were aggressively poorly written. There is a certain (spatial) dimensionality to the sorts of works of fiction that are poor examples of craft that I find lacking in writers like, say, Pynchon or Mamatas. There's worse company, I suppose.

Is that it? I think that's basically all.

Well, maybe there's one more thing. Like with PiƱeda's Apology, I suspect that Love is the Law offers a particularly novelistic take on the cycles of violence mode; rather than viewing this through the lens of a series of biographical sketches, though, Law views it through a close attention to the class politics of an affluent island by way of certain fantastical modes of being. Its focus on things like the Berlin Wall and the rise of neoliberalism against the nihilistic or socialist end of capitalism makes it a significantly more global book, in focus if not in makeup, and that too is an element that is largely missing from the pseudo-genre I'm talking about this week; as with the Coens, most examples of cycles of violence narratives rely heavily on a strictly delineated (read: white) community in which the interlocking groups are set. There might be an irruption into this community that implies the existence of a world outside it, but that irruption is rarely more than an excuse to orient the narrative frame around this particular set of groups of folks. And unlike Apology, Love is the Law doesn't reduce women largely to objects. Which is pretty cool of it.

Blog Archive