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Black House Rocked

blackhouse [1]2,028 words

Paul Bingham and Emril Krestle
Black House Rocked [2]
Hopeless Books, Uninc., 2015

“I’ve often wondered what happens to people when they get out of prison. People like you, I mean. Can they get jobs, do old friends rally around them? What if they never had any friends?” – Dial ‘M’ for Murder

No sooner had I hit “send” on my review of Only Lovers Left Alive,[1] than a new release from Ann Sterzinger’s estimable Hopeless Books appeared in my inbox. What seemed coincident was that in the former I briefly reminisced about the old days of EPs, one of those cheap, small time formats where serendipity often meets economy, such as the swapped cassettes of the noise and metal undergrounds.

And here, I was faced with something calling itself a “split single,” like a 45 shared by two different bands, comprising a short story by Emril Krestle and a novella by Paul Bingham.[2] There were also instructions, as if it had arrived from the Impossible Mission Force or perhaps Cigarette Smoking Man, suggesting, with an air of extreme prejudice, that I forgo the prompting of nature and “read the novella first.”

How perverse! How à rebours! And yet, how appropriate, for a devotee of my fellow Detroiter, and sometime Doppelgänger, Thomas Ligotti,[3] and one of the leading voices of the anti-natalist movement.[4] I hear, and obey!

And so, first, the largest part of this “split kindle single,” a new story from Paul Bingham, whose collection Down Where the Devil Don’t Go was reviewed here last year [3]. In that review I stated my opinion that

The longer stories being the more successful, one wishes Bingham would . . . devote himself more to the pleasures of what Henry James called “the dear, the blessed nouvelle” [and thereby] giving the author more time to get us into and interested in these dark worlds and their less welcome inhabitants.

Someone, surely not God, was listening, and so we now have Bingham’s novella, Save the Last Bullet for Me, which does indeed take the time to really get us into those dark worlds and less welcome inhabitants.

Hence, my quote from Dial ‘M’ for Murder. I have, indeed, wondered what happens to people when they get out of prison; people like that. Bingham asks a slightly different question, which I think is almost entirely new, at least to me: what happens to people before they get into prison? I mean, in that curious period between conviction and actual slamming of the door.[5]

So we are introduced to one Jackson, a hereditary loser even among the white trash class.

He was the product of two characters out of a drinking song, and life, growing up, had been about keeping breath inside him, while they were haunting bars across the county line or sweeping out jail cells.

“Remember, you’re never gonna amount to anything, anyhow – so don’t be blamin’ the bottle on that and thinkin’ Alcoholics Anonymous is gonna improve you. You just kill yourself with the bottle like a real man. The scared fellows are the ones who die of breathing.”

We meet him just after his conviction for child molestation, which of course he had nothing to do with; he says.[6] Does Jackson have friends? Do they rally around? Well, he has friends like these:

“You think I fucked those boys in the ass, don’t you?”

“No. See, I was there in the courtroom. Jason said you fucked him in the ass and blew his brother. That’s fucked, and I know you ain’t that fucked.”

With such an outstanding reputation, it’s no surprise that the pre-prison Jackson begins to get . . . offers, shall we say, of various little jobs he could help take care of, from the FBI itself[7]on down, since he has nothing better to do or hope for.

They all came around eventually. Friendly, insinuating, speaking in hushed reverent voices of the future souls they wanted elsewhere.

Even Jackson is a bit taken aback:

“You want me to do what? Why would you offer me that? Why would I do that? The authorities are gonna wanna know why, right?”

In fact, though, he’s all up for it; well, as Burroughs would say, “Wouldn’t you?”

“I’m gonna kill you so I can go to the pen knowin’ I was guilty of something.”[8]

“Tomorrow you’ll be burnin’ in hell and I’ll be in that fucking jail cell, without air conditioning, again. Lotta shit to look forward to. I’ll know why they wanna kill me now, or fell okay with it at least.”

In Dial ‘M’, Wendice (Ray Milland) is going to blackmail Swan (Anthony Dawson) into murdering Mrs. Wendice (Grace Kelly). Here, the blackmail has already been applied, by the State. As I’ve characterized the theme common to both Lovecraft and Evola, the worst has already happened, and there’s nothing you can do about it. [9]

Jackson finally gets an offer he can’t refuse: an old benefactor wants him to kill a fellow dirtbag, female class– the mentally deficient Leeann — so as to bring her to justice after evading jail for killing his son, Bailey: [10]

“Justice, I figure, is somethin’ you gotta take. It ain’t bein’ handed out on silver plates, no more. Never was probly.”[11]

But while dealing with what Tarrantino would call The Leeann Situation, circumstances – which I’ll let the reader discover for himself, but suffice to say the community seems overstocked with inter-related child molesters, even for Redneckville[12] – lead Jackson to decide there’s more justice needing to be meted out, and he heads back to town.

Or does he?

Nobody seemed to notice a guy with two rifles, limping down the highway. Jackson began to wonder if he was really there.

At this point, it seems like Bingham has been reading Andy Nowicki, or else Hopeless Books now has a house style. Up pops The Watcher, another wraith-like character à la the lucidly dreaming loser of Nowicki’s Beauty and the Least.[13]

The Watcher may, in fact, be William Burroughs:

“Who are you, man?”

“Man, yeah. An errant junkie, just passing through.[14] You may have heard of me. I majored in symbolism at Harvard.[15] Then I got a grant and popularized burning down libraries across the country as art for the safe of art, until they caught on.”

Jackson’s ensuing adventures are a kind of blood-drenched Magic Theater, a tour of the Western Lands under the guidance of el hombre invisible himself. I must confess, I rather missed our grittier, down-home visit with Jackson and his fellow small town glue huffers, but Bingham’s way with language keeps you going on.

Some lines are worthy of Chandler himself:

“He likes to live in a nutshell. All complete, but can’t hit back, when the world starts cracking.”

A politician, mouthing lines fed to him from an earpiece, praises mass immigration:

“That’s the future. It’s promising, hopeful, and black.”

The “new model A3 anchorette” delivers the TV news:

This one had [eyes] of a purposeful reptile – a serpent with foregone conclusions.

Read after Bingham, Kestle’s “short story” — I’ll explain the scare quotes in a moment — “Twilights” does have a curious effect. As the plural might indicate, it’s less a short story than a series of prose poems. I think some bad guys are wandering in some kind of posthumous vampiric fate, what with all the bats and blood and such, but I may be wrong. If read beforehand, I’m not sure what one would make of it. If read after, it seems to indeed function, retrospectively, as a kind of impressionistic overture to the novella.[16] If that seems too vertiginous, then consider it as a kind of dessert, or a palate-cleansing slice of ginger after the nihilistic meat of Bingham’s novella.

This “split single” is recommended for anyone who wants to see if the abyss really will stare back.


[1] “Wild in the Streets of Sleepy London Town,” here [4].

[2] When Burroughs’ Junky was first published (as Junkie) by Ace Books, the publisher hedged its bets, financially and legally, by publishing it back-to-front (“69’d, so to speak” recalled Ginsberg) with the memoirs of a drug agent. Burroughs was “appalled,” but years later admitted that the latter book was actually pretty interesting. See Junky: 50th Anniversary Definitive Edition (New York: Penguin, 2003), pp. xxviii, 157.

[3] See “A final attempt to get my braincrush on Ligotti out of my system,” here [5].

[4] See “Anti-Life Fiction: Ann Sterzinger’s NVSQVAM (nowhere) by Andy Nowicki, here [6].

[5] In Junky, one of Burroughs pals gets busted and asks him for bail money; Burroughs gives him cigarettes to use in prison: “If a man’s going to do time, he might as well started toing it.”

[6] “Suddenly, we’re dropped into a cringe-comedy story about getting arrested for dropping a deuce on the unsuspecting heads of Cub Scouts through the open roof of their father’s fancy car. ‘That’s where it all went off the rails,’ McGill hollers, ‘and I’ve been paying for it ever since!’” Recap of the season finale of Better Call Saul, Rolling Stone, here [7].

[7] “All the way to the F….B…..IIIIII” – Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs. One also recalls the government spook in Andy Nowicki’s Under The Nihil, reviewed here [8] and in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-currents, 2014).

[8] I am reminded of the half-assed plan concocted by criminal “mastermind” Mr. Tucker (Ed Platt) in equally half-assed B picture The Rebel Set (1959). As he explains to his stooge, Sidney (Ned Glass), by employing down and out losers (“you’re not beat, your beaten!”) he “excites [their] sleeping ambition,” making them more loyal and dedicated than hired hands. Needless to say, things fail spectacularly. Platt and Glass would reappear (though not in the same scene) that same year in the big budget Technicolor of North by Northwest, directed by Dial ‘M’ ’s Hitchcock. Grant’s performance in North is arguably the model for the film Bond; Anthony Dawson, Dial ‘M’ ’s Swan, will reappear as the assassin that Bond shoots in the back in Dr. No, establishing his “ruthlessness,” and also will be the hands and voice of the unseen Blofeld in the series, until the producers decided on the iconic Dr. Evil look. As for Platt, he’s more familiar for another role: the Chief on Get Smart.

[9] See the title essay collected in The Eldritch Evola.

[10] One can’t help but think of Bailey Chastain (or “Corporal Justine” to the MST3k boys), left for dead at the Bay of Pigs, whose uranium mine is final, doomed goal of the three murderous hoboes in Red Zone Cuba (Coleman Francis, 1964); I guess I don’t hang out with many white trash types. The FBI stakeout reminds the MST3k boys of Max and Hymie from Get Smart.

[11] “That’s what the niggers don’t realize. If I got one thing against the black chappies, it’s this – no one gives it to you. You have to take it.” – Frank Costello (Jack [Nichol]son), The Departed, here [9]; a movie I found to be a useful key to Nowicki’s Nihil, loc. cit.

[12] The SPLC lawyer says it’s “Utterly weird shit . . . But you know, it’s pretty much business as usual for white trash.”

[13] Hopeless Books, 2014; see my review here [10].

[14] “Why are we here? We are here to go.” – Brion Gysin

[15] Though the protagonist of The Da Vinci Code purports to be a “Professor of Symbology” at Harvard, there is of course no such thing. Burroughs, describing his stay at Harvard in the Prologue to Junky, says he met “some rich homosexuals, of the international queer set who cruise around the world, bumping into each other in queer joints from New York to Cairo. I saw a way of life, a vocabulary, references, a whole symbol system, as the sociologists say.”

[16] This Joycean strategy seems increasingly common in alt-Right literature; in my review of Rachel Haywire’s The New Reaction that in the first chapter “terse becomes deliberately poetic and allusive, a sort of overture in the spirit of the Blazes Boylan section of Ulysses, and it will make more (any) sense after the more prosaic parts.” See “It’s Trad, Dad!” here [11].