Saturday, May 3, 2014

Book Review: Down Where the Devil Don't Go by Paul Bingham

Down Where the Devil Don't Go is Paul Bingham's first published work. Based on the interviews I've read with him, the stories were written during the Bush years but weren't published until this year. What's scary is that these stories are just as relevant as ever.

The first story is "Population I." A writer finds himself unable to work on his novel. He starts believing himself to be fake, and he resents his promiscuous, smut-writing roommate. Eventually, he finds inspiration in a convict he's mentoring. 

   My mind goes blank and Jamal thinks of another word.

The writer becomes more and more fascinated with Jamal until his feelings turn sexual.
Neither of us are homosexuals, but if I were sentenced to the penitentiary I would allow Jamal to fuck me; I would bend over and let him fuck me in exchange for protection and the right to touch his muscled biceps and to let him know someone other than this mother cares for him. 
This darkly comedic story is a funny and disturbing satire of the modern literary scene and establishes the themes that run through all the stories very well.

Next up is "What Dead Men Fear." John Wayne Cash Brazil is a body guard for a young country singer. When she's kidnapped, her grandfather puts the responsibility of finding her entirely on Brazil.
There is an art to pain. Overwhelming kills you, knocks your mind out. Too little, and you forget you’re nothing. Just the right amount and you’ll hurt bad like everybody else. It’s all in the application—how you manage it.
This noir story is probably the most fun to read. It's like a classic pulp story that also mocks the modern country scene and the celebrity culture around music in general. The passage I quoted above is also one of the best in the book. Like a lot of great noir writers, Bingham's prose is straightforward but hard hitting.

The next story, and probably my favorite in the book, is called "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Hollywood." That title alone would probably get some people shaking their heads. Mort Schnellenhammer is a network executive who finds himself the target of a massive protest after canceling a popular TV show. To save his own skin, he hatches a plan to get rid of the creator of the show.
"Could I do that?"
Reassurance came quickly.
Of course you can, you're Mort Schnellenhammer, Executive. You make things happen; people die. It has a purpose. Your fucking neck is on the line this time.
Like the previous stories, "The Protocols..." is a dark satire, this time on modern media culture. Mort is a completely despicable man, yet Bingham paints him in such a way that he can't simply be dismissed as a caricature. Bingham also manages to use the story to comment on the plight of Palestinian Christians, without it feeling preachy or out of place, through Mort's friend Hasan.
"They talk of Zionist oppression while they kill Christian children and collect the moneys on them, because it is a democracy and we are the minority too minor for anyone to care. God I hate the fucks. They speak in platitudes and fuck democracy in the ass."
The final story, "I Feel Alright", stands out in that it doesn't have the humor or satirical aim of the of the rest of the book. It's just as powerful though. A veteran of the Iraq war returns to Texas and tries to adjust to civilian life again.
Alienation, that's what was missing.
"You just gotta get used to what you was used to before," Sandy has said at the very last minute, before Josh drove away
Sandy had never been to Iraq. Sandy had never left Texas.
Josh soon finds himself involved with his old drug-dealing friends which leads to a violent confrontation with a cop.
Got all satisfied. For the last time in a lifetime. I’ll lose that later, but right now, I feel alright. Better than I ever felt.
This collection of stories is a hell of a debut. Bingham's prose is amazing, and he creates insightful and entertaining looks into the lives of lost and broken people searching for meaning and direction in the cultural wreckage of modern America. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I can't wait to see what Bingham will be coming out with in the future.

Buy Down Where the Devil Don't Go here.

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