BOOK REVIEW: Distortion by Stephen Beachy. Queer Surrealism.

DistortionDistortion by Stephen Beachy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second novel by Stephen Beachy is a paradox: it’s a difficult novel that’s easy to read. A loosely structured, Altman-esque book, it follows the adventures of Reggie, a young, biracial, speed-addicted hustler, and the demimonde surrounding him. The novel follows him from L.A., where he becomes a huge MTV star-cipher, to Florida. Along the way, we drop into the lives of his friends and families, perennial flies on the wall. Most of the characters are disenfranchised in one way or another–gay, poor, or ethnic minorities; they are not the usual denizens of complex, experimental novels.

In this way, it recalls Samuel Delany’s epic novel Dhalgren. The quirky characters, which include a wandering punk-rock poet, a video-producer dying of AIDS, a woman who works with abandoned kids among others, are sharply delineated. The shifts in locale and points-of-view is often dizzying; it resembles both the frantic editing of a music video, and more encyclopedic activity of hypertext links. Woven into these densely interior vignettes are hallucinations and dreams sequences of the various narrators. At times, it’s impossible to see where the “real” fictive world end and thedrug-and-dream-induced imagined parts begin. Part ofit has to do with Beachy’s trademark drunken wordplay. The man is incapable of producing an uninteresting sentence. The imagery is always startling, the syntax and rhythms seductive. It is his verbal facility, more than anything, which provides the novel what structure it has. Somehow Beachy is able to create intense character-driven fiction, and rich phantasmorgia simultaneously. His authorial voices–at once hip, goofy, and scary–waxes philosophically about love, family, film and video theory, sexual abuse and race. This novel is not for everyone–the barrage of images can lean toward the extremely sexual and the disturbing. But those who opt to follow Reggie and his friends on their journeys will be moved. Imagine the trenchant social-realist fiction of Susan Straight or Jess Mowry thrown into a blender with the elegiac, drug-fueled fabulations of Philip K. Dick, and Distortion might be the product.

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