The movie IN FABRIC is infused with the ethos of hauntology, from the creepy soundtrack to the technicolor inspired palette. Ostensibly it’s a tale about a haunted dress. It tells the same story twice, like an anthology film (think of Trilogy of Terror). Act one centers around a recently single mother who’s going out on a series of terrible dates. She buys the bright red dress at a strange department store called Dentley and Sopor. The sales women wear elaborate Victorian funerary gowns and sport gravity-defying updos. The single mother Sheila, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste catches the eye of the most striking saleswoman, played with sinister camp by Gwendoline Christie. Christie’s character speaks in riddles that pepper poststructuralist jargon with sales speak, about abstractions and paradigms with an erotic, hypnotic cadence that seduce Sheila to purchase the dress. The dress seems to have a mind of its own, and causes a series of bizarre occurrences—which I won’t spoil. Act Two follows a young couple who get the dress at a charity shop. Reg, a repairman buys the dress to wear at his stag party. He brings it home and the dress catches the eye of his fiance Babs, wherein the red dress plays out its seductive dance of death. Woven through the film are flashes of the empty department store, where the salespeople perform esoteric rituals with erotic overtones. The plot doesn’t really make sense; it relies on dream logic. The horror is stylish and textual rather than outright violent. The red dress slithers and floats and its filmed in lurid hues. It’s a mindscrew movie with mood whiplash. Did I mention that it has a bleak, black sense of humor? It seems to occur in an alternate world full of anachronistic tech (rotary phones, pneumatic tubes) and has an accompanying soundtrack of vintage synthesized sounds from a group called the Cavern of Antimatter. IN FABRIC is arthouse horror, in the tradition of A COMPANY OF WOLVES or the oeuvre of David Lynch.
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.