Sunday, May 07, 2006

Screwjack, by Hunter S. Thompson

(hb; 1991, 2000: story anthology)

From the inside flap:

“... [Thompson’s] Screwjack is as salacious, unsettling, and brutally lyrical as it has been rumored to be since the private printing in 1991 of three hundred fine collectors’ copies and twenty-six leather-bound presentation copies. Only the first of the three pieces included here – ‘Mescalito,’ published in Thompson’s 1990 collection Songs of the Doomed – has been available to the public, making the trade edition of Screwjack a major publishing event.

“ ‘We live in a jungle of impending disasters,’ Thompson warns in ‘Mescalito,’ a chronicle of his first mescaline experience and what it sparked in him while he was alone in an L.A. hotel room in February 1969 – including a bout of paranoia that would have made most people just scream no, once and for all. But for Thompson, along with the downside came a burst of creativity too powerful to ignore. The result is a poetic, perceptive, and wildly funny stream-of-consciousness take on 1969 America as only Hunter S. Thompson could see it.

Screwjack just gets weirder with its second offering, ‘Death of a Poet.’ As Thompson describes the trailer-park confrontation with the dark side of a deservedly doomed friend: ‘Whoops, I thought. Welcome to the night train.’

“The heart of the collection lies in its final, title piece, an unnaturally poignant love story. What makes the romantic tale ‘Screwjack’ so touching, for all its queerness, is the aching melancholy in its depiction of the modern man’s burden: that ‘we are doomed. Mama has gone off to Real Estate School... and after that maybe even to Law School. We will never see her again.’

“... As Thompson puts it in his introduction, the three stories here ‘build like Bolero to a faster and wilder climax that will drag the reader relentlessly up a hill, & then drop him off a cliff... That is the Desired Effect.’”

Overall review:

One of the best – and one of the shortest (Screwjack spans 59 pages) – story anthologies I’ve read in a long time.

Review, story by story:

Mescalito” – Thompson’s familiar blend of anarchic politics, humor and paranoia. Fans of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas should love this.

Death of a Poet” – Bleakly funny tale about a trailer park crazy man. Chilling, though not surprising, ending. Unforgettable work.

Screwjack” – Tender, non-explicit tale about a wild cat lover who takes that love too far. Yes, folks, bestiality. It’s troubling, but it’s also beautiful, in a pure and perverse way, distinctly Thompsonean. Another unforgettable – and admirably ballsy – piece.

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