sexJerry Stahl’s new novel, Bad Sex on Speed, will be perfect for anyone who considers Spun to be an ideal fun date movie. And it should appeal to many Shades of Grey fans —  provided they have taken a serious wrong turn and  are now transformed into raving crystal meth-addled S & M freaks. Anybody languishing in prison or rehab is sure to appreciate the book’s distinct cultural stylings and highly relevant subject matter.  As for the rest of us — well, we just need to keep an open mind… and resist the urge to call the cops.

Consider some of the phrases used to describe this novel: “A savage, careening, hyper-real nightmare… Devastating, hysterical, terrifying… The most demented and dispossessed among us… In the grips and on the fringes… The screaming depths of psychosis…”

That’s straight from the people who want to sell you Bad Sex on Speed.  I can’t wait to see what the people who dislike the book are saying.  One thing is certain: hardly anyone who reads it will be stuck in the middle, with no strong feeling one way or another. In this regard, Stahl’s fiction is similar to death-metal music or violent exploitation films or hard-core pornography. It’s confrontational.  Goes for the jugular. But Stahl is far more intelligent than any of those other polarizing forces.  And he’s capable of some of the funniest writing we have seen about deadly serious topics since William Burroughs’s classic Naked Lunch.

Jerry Stahl’s career runs counter to certain cliches about artists who survive addiction. Once straight, so we are told, the artist tends to lose his edge. The creative juices dry up. The work suffers from comfort and conventionality. For Stahl, the opposite is true. When he was addicted to drugs, he was a professional writer in Hollywood, struggling to churn out conventional, hokey TV scripts for “Alf” and “Moonlighting.” Once sober, however, he started producing the weird, transgressive writing that soon made him famous. He followed up his balls-to-the-wall addiction memoir, Permanent Midnight (made into a film starring Ben Stiller), with a series of novels so steeped in bizarre outlaw sensibility that they inspired fellow literary miscreant Anthony Bourdain to come up with the greatest blurb ever: “Jerry Stahl should either get the Pulitzer Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

Stahl’s Pain Killers stands out as a particularly sick journey to the outer limits of post-Holocaust crime literature. The story is about an ex-cop hired to investigate a San Quentin inmate who is suspected of being the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, now a nonagenarian incarcerated under an alias. The whirling freak show of a plot involves genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America’s secret history of collusion with the Nazis. Sure, these themes resonate with some troubling aspects of Cold War history (MK Ultra, for example). But who would have thought this material could be served up as dark comedy? Or even madcap farce?

As for Bad Sex on Speed, I’m not sure if this is a book about crime, or if the book itself is a crime. What I am sure is that it cannot be described in normal reviewerspeak.  Completely unhinged, it makes no concession to traditional narrative form, instead preferring a rambling series of deranged voices jabbering tales of terror from deep within the bowels of methamphetamine-ravaged America.  It would appear to be a form of contemporary realism, in other words. We have to assume this is what a modern crime novel looks like, when dragged kicking and screaming into our current zeitgeist of rampant drug abuse, pornography, and violence.  In this extreme context, unflinching gallows humor may be the most suitable response. Thankfully, Jerry Stahl is happy to oblige.

Posted by BJW Nashe on March 16, 2013


3 Responses to Bad Sex on Speed: Jerry Stahl’s Hearing Voices Again

  1. deepysix says:

    “Jerry Stahl should either get the Pulitzer Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

    – Anthony Bourdain

    Funny. This sentiment applies also, in a less flippant sense, to several Nobel Prize winners. Henry Kissinger comes immediately to mind:

    “Henry Kissinger should either get the Nobel Peace Prize, or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

    Al Gore and the current president, who have collectively done less than zero for the cause of peace in the world, have both collected Nobel Peace Prizes rather than being shot down in the street like dogs.

    “Adolf Hitler should either be regaled on the cover of TIME magazine, or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

    I am not advocating the shooting of dogs or “Statesmen.” The dogs and the politicians each have an important role in our society.

    One provides unreserved fealty and slobbering affection, while the other robs us blind with a sneer and convinces us to send our young folk to commit murders in far-flung lands.

    “Hillary Clinton should either win the Nobel Peace Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

    “Timothy Geithner should either win the Nobel Prize for Economics or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

    I should win a Pulitzer or a Nobel, or be shot down in the street like a dog.

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      Deepy Six,

      Your mental acuity and writing ability are on glorious display in your comment. But, in what is a far more frightening development, your logic is pretty damned strong. Furthermore, I’m certain that this is the first time in the history of the blogoshere, or maybe in any sphere, that Jerry Stahl has been compared to any of the “luminaries” with whom you so cleverly connect him. I’m sure that the BJW Nashe, the author of the Jerry Stahl post, will have more in-depth commentary than this paltry attempt. Although I should win neither a Pulitzer nor a Nobel prize, I should probably be shot down in the street like a dog.

  2. BJW Nashe says:

    I’d forgotten that Kissinger received a Nobel Peace Prize (during the Vietnam War). Thanks for reminding me (I suppose). I can’t believe Bush and Cheney have been overlooked when it comes to this great honor.

    Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard was called “Peace, Legitimacy, and the Equilibrium.” Hmmm. Sounds like the title of a Joy Division album.

    When it comes to war-mongering scoundrels, Gore, Clinton, and Obama don’t really earn a very high place on the list at all. Pretty peaceful, by and large. Am I missing something? (Yes, I know all about the freaking drone strikes.)

    Of course nobody really cares who wins the great Prizes. Perhaps the Prizes will soon be more shameful than anything else. Maybe that’s already the case, among the smart people.

    Speaking of shameful, Anthony Bourdain has a new travel show starting soon on CNN. Can’t wait. His No Reservations show on the Travel Network was way better than most TV (if you like the idea of a chef from New York getting drunk and misbehaving all around the globe). Might want to check it out.

    OK, gotta get back to my close reading of Under the Volcano.

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