“Don’t publish it,” my editor, who also happens to be my wife, said to me after reading the previous draft of this review. “It sounds mean-spirited. It makes you look bad.”
I told her that I’d written the review in the same spirit—mean—as Gene Gregorits showed in Bigger Than Life at the Edge of the City. “It’s a vile book,” I said. “Totally fucked up. But it’s somehow compelling in its nauseating way. I read every word.”
“Why do you want to make some guy in prison mad at you?”
“He’s not going to get mad. He’s going to love the review. He’s always bitching about how critics never read his books. He’ll be thrilled to get a reaction. That’s the whole point of the book... to get a reaction.”
“But nobody knows who Gregorits is. They’re going to think you’re the one who’s fucked up.”
If you don’t know who Gene Gregorits is, a bit of background is in order. Gregorits is an anti-commercial, quasi-avant-garde writer who, despite holding mainstream publishing in contempt, longs for commercial success. In a scene in Bigger, which Gregorits calls a novel but is actually nonfiction (or close to it), he tells one of his patrons, “I don’t have the backing of a major publisher and the fucking audience I want.”
Due to his inability to find a publisher, Gregorits formed a company, Monastrell, to bring out his own books, and he has gone to extreme lengths to draw attention to those books. Once, he had somebody videotape him as he cut off part of his ear and ate it. In the course of this self-destructive crusade, Gregorits has made himself a martyr to bland commercialism.
A few years ago, after he had sex with an underage girl, the state of Florida sentenced him to 15 years in what amounts to a slave-labor camp. He’s lucky they didn’t lobotomize him.
Bigger was written in that slave-labor camp.
I’ve never met Gregorits. I know him through social media and his books. We have a few mutual acquaintances.
In the interest of salvaging what I can from the previous mean-spirited draft, I present below, as objectively as I can, a number of critical points about Bigger:
· In his typical self-defeating manner, Gregorits insults his readers, calling them “power-tripped, pussy-whipped pretty boys.”
· He describes Bigger as “post cultural” and “meta cultural.” These are meaningless terms, presumably intended to obscure the fact that he’s writing about real people and using their real names.
· I contacted one of the main “characters,” the patron who bankrolled his previous book, to see if she’d care to comment on her portrayal in this one. Gregorits describes her by name as “fat, homely, and talentless,” and “disheveled, obese, bucktoothed.” “No comment,” is what she had to say, and who can blame her? These descriptions, chosen at random among a multitude of similar phrases, should serve as a warning to anybody else who might consider giving Gregorits money, shelter, food, drugs, and/or blowjobs.
· Gregorits makes it clear just how treacherous he is. One character tells him, “Half of New York is still screaming for your blood.” Another says, “You screwed over everybody south of 14th Street.”
· Bigger is an often well-written and at times poetic catalogue of Gregorits’s hatreds. It’s almost as if he can’t write about something unless he hates it, and he hates everything, with the exceptions of good wine and beer, cats, a couple of punk bands, and the rare human being—like a sharply dressed “gentleman” who’s dying of cancer and “a super-hip mid-30s Jewess.” (Gregorits is obviously aware that Jewess is a loaded word—a Nazi word—that says nothing about the character and everything about his need for gratuitous provocation.)
· Bigger is a meandering, Henry Miller–Hunter Thompson-esque account of the life of Gene Gregorits, a homeless, filthy, foul-smelling crack junkie with rotting toenails—who might be HIV-positive but doesn’t seem to care—surviving on the Florida Gulf Coast. After a hurricane and an episode of sloshing around in raw sewage, he moves to the New York–New Jersey area at Christmastime 2012, and, staying with his patron, “equal parts Tammy Faye Bakker, Holly Woodlawn, and Gena Rowlands,” he switches to booze and coke, is interviewed by Vice.com—the interview reproduced word-for-word as a chapter, just in case anybody mistakes the book for fiction—and then gives a reading at a bar on the Lower East Side.
· Prison can be a good thing for a serious writer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gregorits is already working on a book about his life of slave labor in Florida’s Apalachee Correctional Institute. He might remind himself, as he sits in his cell, scribbling with a ballpoint, what death row and a last-second reprieve while standing before a firing squad did for Dostoevsky—and his career.
I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Read More
Far From Flatbush
“Don’t publish it,” my editor, who also happens to be my wife, said to me after reading the previous draft of this review. “It sounds mean-spirited. It makes you look bad.”
I worked with Joyce for 15 years at Swank Publications. She was one of the rare people at that company who was a total professional and always conducted herself with the utmost integrity. So when she asked me to review Mistress Pussycat, which you’ll be hearing a lot about here and elsewhere in the months to come, I was happy to do so. This is what I had to say:
Mistress Pussycat is a disturbingly honest, highly arousing, laugh-out-loud-funny memoir by cat-loving career pornographer Joyce Snyder. At age 60, after half a lifetime spent cranking out low-rent stroke books and X-rated films, she embarks on a madcap journey of erotic self-discovery and learns the true nature of her own sexuality—she’s a “femdom,” a woman who wants to enslave men. Her quest for the perfect, obediently worshipful male is an eye-opening tour through the demented demimonde of BDSM, a secret world barred to the “vanilla”—anybody not into BDSM—featuring “adult babies,” “pony parties,” “pain sluts,” “pay pigs,” human furniture, masochists begging to be publicly humiliated, dominatrices expert in the art of testicular torture, and men who want only to suffer forevermore as naked “slave beasts,” their penises caged in diabolical chastity devices. Snyder’s sharply drawn portraits of the more than a dozen torment-craving “subs” who audition for her ministrations are frighteningly real, well written, and well researched, and because she experienced or witnessed everything she so skillfully describes, it’s hotter than Fifty Shades of Grey. Reading Mistress Pussycat is a literary pussy-whipping… and you’ll learn a lot about cats, too. Read More
Florida, the land of Stand Your Ground, a law most rational people recognize as legalizing murder, is a state that boasts the fourth-highest number of executions in the United States. It’s also a state run by a climate-change-denying governor, Rick Scott, who, in his previous gig as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, a healthcare mega-giant, oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in history. The company (though not Scott himself), admitted to 14 felonies and was fined $1.7 billion, the largest such fine ever levied in the U.S.
So, let’s call Florida what it is: a vengeful, bloodthirsty state run by a chief executive who’s lucky that he’s not doing hard time in a Federal penitentiary, and a state where such notions as the “rule of law,” “justice,” and even “science” mean what those in power want them to mean.
In short, when you’re talking about the Sunshine State, it would be unwise to make any assumptions about the guilt or innocence of those who occupy a prison cell and those who occupy the executive mansion. Or, if you must make an assumption, stick to a safe one: The occupant of the executive mansion has more money than the occupant of the prison cell—because it’s been well-established that Florida is at the forefront of the American ideal of justice for the rich. Therefore, I would not dismiss the theory currently circulating among those paying attention to The State of Florida vs. Gene Gregorits that prosecutors railroaded Gene as an “undesirable,” somebody not welcome in their God-fearing fiefdom, parts of which will soon be underwater. (Visit Miami Beach while you still can.)
Gene chose Florida as a place to live in bohemian semi-poverty because he likes the beach, he detests cold weather, and the cost of living is significantly cheaper than, say, in L.A. But lack of money is only one contributing cause of Gene’s current nightmare. Anybody who followed his pre-incarceration Facebook feed, a litany of impotent rage, threats of self-mutilation, and reports about his ailing cat, Sam, would have seen the obvious: These were the desperate words of a man headed for an insane asylum, prison, and/or early death.
Desperation, of course, is endemic to writing. Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson blew their brains out—and they’d achieved a level of commercial and critical success that’s probably no longer attainable. That’s what the book business can do to people, especially to writers like Gene who are not “brand names,” who dare to cultivate a distinctive voice, and who refuse to write plot-driven genre fiction or nonfiction that defies easy pigeonholing in a commercial category.
Gene, having aggressively rejected all the conventions of mainstream publishing, instead took a uniquely American path: He formed his own imprint, Monastrell, exclusively for his own books. And though Monastrell has put out 18 books and Gene has met with some success, including an interview on Vice.com that briefly sent Dog Days: Volume One rocketing up the Amazon charts, this venture has simply not generated enough cash for Gene to buy himself some Florida Justice.
So, he sits in his Pinellas County prison cell, doing what he can to hang on to what remains of his sanity—he writes books, and Monastrell, currently being run by his supporters, publishes them. Since he’s been in jail, he’s written Stretch Marks, a full-length memoir. This, in itself, is an extraordinary achievement. The Orange Woman: Volume I ($6.99) is a 27-page excerpt from Stretch Marks.
In The Orange Woman, Gene flashes back and forth between the early 1980s and the recent past. But he primarily focuses on the “vicious” winter of 1983, when he was a “sexually perverse child of seven” living in financial and cultural poverty, in rural Pennsylvania, with his emotionally unstable mother, Kathleen, who works a low-paying job at an IBM plant, and his sketchily described younger brother, Matt.
The orange woman is Naomi Fairbanks, so-called because of an artificial tanning product that has turned her skin “the somber orange of baked carrots.” She’s an inbred local “creature,” living in a trailer park, whom Kathleen hires to provide childcare—it’s all she can afford.
Naomi’s dialogue is rendered phonetically—Yer warnt serm cawfee?—and this is among the multitude of vividly conjured sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and sensations of a distant time and place that gives the reader a clear sense of the fucked-up situation Gene escaped from, and explains to some degree why he now finds himself in a Pinellas County prison cell.
The Orange Woman is an hors d’oeuvre that leaves the reader hungry for the full meal, and I can only hope that no matter what happens, Gene continues writing and publishing. For his is a voice that is, indeed, worth preserving. Read More
"The event is sounding too much like a celebration of pornography," is an opinion I heard expressed yesterday.
I respectfully disagree.
What we’re celebrating is literature that was once branded pornographic, not pornography itself. The main case in point, of course, is Ulysses, which was originally banned in the U.S. for its explicit sexual content. And some of that content will be read as an illustration of why certain misguided people chose to ban an extraordinary book.
Then there’s Beaver Street, which certainly explores the place of pornography in American culture, but is anything but a celebration of pornography. In fact, the critic Neil Chesanow, in describing Beaver Street, referred to my “deep ambivalence and frequent disgust” with porno. “Yes,” he writes, “the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail.”
And the other book that I’m going to be reading from, my almost completed novel Bobby in Naziland, has nothing at all to do with the pornography industry, and ties in directly with Bloomsday by paying tribute to James Joyce in the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.
The other two books we’re celebrating, The Complete Linda Lovelace, by Eric Danville, and Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars, by Lainie Speiser, are about, and examples of, pornography as a mainstream cultural phenomenon. But they are not works of pornography.
Plus there’s the music. Some of it, like Mary Lyn Maiscott’s haunting new song, “Angel Tattooed Ballerina,” about a transsexual, simply touches on the theme of transgression.
And yes, it’s true, there will a porn star on hand, and she will be reading from a book. But if I understand correctly, it is required that every cutting-edge literary and art event in New York City have at least one porn star on hand. In fact, if the porn star is famous enough, and she’s sitting naked and ironically in a bathtub filled with money, she will be recognized as an object of beauty that has nothing to do with pornography.
So, if Bloomsday on Beaver Street II seems a little heavy on pornography, it’s only because we’re doing what we can to keep literature relevant in the 21st century. Read More
Amanda reads from A Clockwork Orange
Genius is a word I use sparingly, but I would apply it to photographer Clayton Cubitt's Hysterical Literature, an erotic art project that transcends both literature and pornography.
The concept is deceptively simple: Film, in black and white, a series of sexy, articulate women--some are porn stars, some aren't--sitting at a table, reading a passage from their favorite book. As they read, somebody is underneath the table, out of sight, pleasuring them with a vibrator. All you see is the table, the fully clothed woman from the torso up, and the book she's reading, as she becomes more and more aroused until, no longer able to read, she gives herself over to orgasm.
Not surprisingly, the most popular video in the series, with more than six million views, is porn star Stoya reading from the anthology Necrophila Variations.
Here, I’ve selected two videos that I found especially interesting. The one above is Amanda reading A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. The one below, which appears to be a knockoff of Cubitt’s concept, is Elaine, a Brazilian woman, reading something or other in Portuguese. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to understand a word that’s being said to appreciate Hysterical Literature.
Can’t wait to see somebody do justice to Beaver Street. In any language.
Elaine reads something in Portuguese
Well, according the Urban Dictionary, the primary, secondary, and tertiary meanings of pussyboy are definitely not metaphorical. And not even the quaternary definition--"A person who doesn't like to do anything fun and just stays home and plays video games"--comes close to approximating what I thought the word meant.
I bring this up now because pussyboy is suddenly all over the place, probably indicating a proliferation of pussyboys in America. And though I can’t find my definition online, when people use the word, they do seem to be talking about pricky guys from privileged upbringings. Or gutless people.
For example, about a month ago, I was hanging out at the Jane Street Tavern, when the guy sitting next to me at the bar, a self-described hard-ass southern boy, said to me, “Everybody I meet from Brooklyn is a pussyboy from Iowa.”
And here’s a literary example from a novel I just finished reading, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, which is full of the expression, rendered as two words: “Becomes engaged to a guy three years her senior who’s getting his MBA, kind of a tight-ass pussy boy and far too impressed with himself.” Then, on the next page he writes, “He drives to Fort Worth, locates the pussy-boy Saab outside the pussy-boy condo.”
Finally, in yesterday’s post, I quoted Gene Gregorits: “I had a Princeton pussyboy acting as an ‘agent’ last winter.”
I’ve yet to use the word conversationally, but if I do, I’d like to use it correctly. So, I await my pussyboy enlightenment. Read More
That Gregorits self-published Dog Days under his Monastrell Books imprint, and has turned himself inside out trying to promote it, tells you all you need to know about the state of mainstream publishing these days: If you're going to write something genuinely original and not easily categorized, you’re wasting your time. The publishing industry does not want to know you.
I don’t know if Gregorits made an effort to sell this book to a mainstream publisher, but if he did, what they told him were variations on, “We really enjoyed reading Dog Days but we don’t know how to publish it, so we’re going to pass.” Which means, in the eyes of the publishing world, no matter how good a writer Gregorits is, he’s not a major celebrity with his own TV show, and it’s going to be difficult to promote a book like Dog Days without such a “platform.”
So, Gregorits brought out Dog Days himself, got some publicity on Vice.com, and sold a few books. This infused him with hope. He thought that an interview on a high-profile Website might lead somewhere. But these days, nothing in the writing biz seems to lead anywhere, except oblivion, and anything that doesn’t lead to oblivion is the exception that proves the rule.
Gregorits, who was embittered to begin with—bitterness is what fuels his writing—became even more embittered. He became something rare in the literary firmament: a writer who doesn’t give a fuck what anybody in the biz thinks of him, who doesn’t care whom he pisses off or what bridges he burns.
This is refreshing.
I’ll leave you with a recent post from Gregorits’s Facebook page that neatly sums up the view from underground, written by a man who has allowed himself to feel too much:
Trying to put a press kit together. I had a Princeton pussyboy acting as an “agent” last winter, but he never did a fucking thing so I told him to go fuck his mother. One of the most important things he promised to take care of was a decent looking press kit, and here I am trying to cobble together various reviews, interviews, etc., to show around to an industry that I don’t give a damn about. All time wasted. I’d rather be telemarketing: there’s an end to that dirty business, and a point.
I don’t want to be part of the feeding frenzy. I’m fucking good at what I do. Period. Fuck this PR bullshit. I could simply hack off a piece of my head, or an arm or a leg or something, take off a finger... quick, spiritually transforming, primal.
Or I could sit here mouse-clicking, jacking myself off all day like a baboon... endless, spiritually debilitating, superficial.
There you have it: The 21st century book biz in a nutshell. Read More