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Fucked-up and Vine

Cover drawing Gary Panter 2005

Cover drawing Gary Panter 2005

What are you supposed to do with this “novel” except read it and laugh? You’ll laugh ha-ha, not in derision, glad to cop a dirt-stylish experience of absurd and stupid lowlife without acquiring the crab lice and track marks that always spoil the jollies.

It helps if you hung around the ’80s L.A. post-punk scene, because then you can match the pseudonyms with familiar faces of rockers, artists and 24-hour partiers — the author breaks no sweat fictionalizing, since the real mammals and their behaviors are plenty fantastical. So I guess this reviewer belongs to the target demographic, having worked in an office with “Bruce Caen,” known much of his cast and beheld the glory of the arti-culti mag he published back then.

Such local knowledge isn’t required, though. After a long introductory chunk in which he nearly drops the ball by belaboring the circumstances of his alienated youth, Caen gets down to business. What keeps him in the game is his style — dry and blunt, with steady momentum and a penchant for metaphor that flirts with silliness while rarely slopping over: “That year plummeted along for me like a vintage black Lincoln Continental accelerating downhill with no brakes.” And as a storyteller, he lays out just enough details — the size of the ass, the condition of the paint, the greasiness of the jeans — to make a situation live while he cruises through the uncluttered action of a seduction, a bust or a fix fest. Then on to the next, the next and the next. Story? A fucked-up guy gets more and more fucked-up till he hits a hallucinatory apotheosis. Not a plot, really; a life. Boring it ain’t.

—Greg Burk

SUB-HOLLYWOOD: A Novel | By BRUCE CAEN | Yes Press | 335 pages | $24 softcover