There are a couple of other good stories in Tina in the Backseat, some wonderful passages and memorable lines. But in several stories the air of despair is so thick, and Rawley’s prose so restrained, that they get lost in what one character terms "a sea of beige perfection." The unhappy protagonists blend together in a cloud of even-toned misery. Mawkishness invades. Stereotypes take over, particularly in the unfortunate "Mother of Pearl," in which the forlorn gay narrator falls for a hot and spicy Mexican boxer, and which contains both an unseemly burrito metaphor and the unfortunate line "Felice’s cock is pressing against me like a mariachi’s golden guitar."
There is an excellent comic novel hidden within the 452 pages of Mick Farren’s Jim Morrison’s Adventures in the Afterlife, and it’s only about 250 pages long. Which is to say his book, which is his 15th novel, is bloated and loose, loose, loose, though it’s still a lot of fun. You just have to learn to skim.
The book’s conceit is that the afterlife is nothing but what you make of it. God is nowhere to be found, and it’s up to each spirit to build his or her own heaven or hell. Dead evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson has split in half into Aimee, her aggressively goody-two-shoes side, whose heaven is part Fantasia, part Maxfield Parrish painting, and Semple, her straight-out sinful side, in whose realm "the primary focus was the practice of torture and subjugation." When we meet her, Semple is busy punishing an angel kidnapped from Aimee’s realm for its incompetence at cunnilingus.
Aimee, disappointed at God’s apparent absence, decides to "engage in a Holy Mission, perhaps an actual Crusade, to forcibly reconfigure the entire Plane of the Afterlife to her image of Heaven," but she realizes that she’ll need a little help, since "back on Earth, from the moment she had devoted herself to God and His works, she’d had little call to use her imagination, and now she found it a weakened and atrophied thing." So she enlists Semple to scour the underworld in search of a poet to help her out with the creative angle. Dead rocker Jim Morrison appears on the scene, drinking and drugging his way through the hereafter. Morrison’s and McPherson’s paths eventually converge, though not in the way you’d guess.
In the meantime, there’s the entire afterlife to explore, complete with UFOs, voodoo gods, Dylan Thomas reborn as a goat, and a poker game that includes Doc Holliday, Lucifer, the Hindu goddess Kali, Richard Nixon and a North Korean secret policeman. At one point, Semple, having just escaped an A-bomb explosion and a stoning by the followers of a self-styled Moses, is sucked through Godzilla’s eye into a tumor in his brain, where she meets the aforementioned Mr. Thomas and Jesus himself, a tad autistic, who curls up in a fetal position and jacks off while watching old Zorro serials on TV.
You get the idea. Farren is wildly imaginative, but a sloppy and undisciplined writer. Most of his characters, be they Doc Holliday, Jim Morrison or Moses — rather different figures on the "lifeside" — speak with almost exactly the same voice, which happens to be the same as the narrative voice. The result is more like Mel Brooks with pot-brownie-induced giggles than the Burroughsian absurdism to which Farren apparently aspires. It is nonetheless sporadically hilarious.
JUMPING THE GREEN: A Novel | By LESLIE SCHWARTZ | Simon & Schuster | 269 pages | $23 hardcover
THE JOOK: A Crime Novel | By GARY PHILLIPS | Really Great Books | 222 pages | $13 paperback
TINA IN THE BACK SEAT: Stories | By DONALD RAWLEY | Avon Books | 149 pages | $12 paperback
JIM MORRISON’S ADVENTURES IN THE AFTERLIFE: A Novel | By MICK FARREN | St. Martin’s Press | 452 pages | $25 hardcover