Chris D. (aka Desjardins) first came to my attention as a published poet in the obscure but excellent zine Birthstone and with his own anthology Bongo Chalice, both in 1977, minutes away from starting his Flesh Eaters band in L.A. I had already seen some of his film work, including the intriguing 16mm short Rocket Day Johnny. I had no idea how far his obsessions would go, and so it is with partiuclar pleasure that I read his novel, Mother’s Worry, now re-released on his own publication label, Poison Fang.
Those obsessions have matured and Chris comes out the other side of his own Tunnel of Horrors boat ride still intact.
Chris did manage to put together a feature, I Pass For Human (now on DVD), and has admitted that a lot of his prose was orginally intentioned for the screen as well.
Mother’s Worry, it goes without saying if you know any of Chris’s work, is a very lurid and weird lit noir filtered through heroin addiction and gorehound film. His clearest inspirations are Jim Thompson, the neglected writer who died without anything in print, but is now recognized again, and Harry Crews, whose Feast of Snakes novel is the launching pad of this particular novel.
The most interesting device of this book is having a variety of first person viewpoints – and the most interesting viewpoints are all those of women, particularly Connie, the girlfriend of a our lead character, Ray.
Ray himself is the pulp crime anti-hero, macho and indestructable. It is easy to image Chris in this role from his earlier days of Allison Ander’s indie Border Radio or the Flesh Eaters’ video Wedding Dice (directed by Gary Walknow). Chris has the features of a noir hero for sure.
However, Chris also has the soul of a Romantic poet, and is essentially a dandy in rags. Even on screen, he never particularly seemed like he could win a fight or take a bullet and keep going. That’s something a director often teaches his actor anyway. Left to Chris’s own imagination, Ray is pretty two-dimensional and the world that Ray inhabits is not so much the lurid world of noir film or pulp, as much as the world of the cheap paperback one of its denizens reads on the night shift of a flea bag hotel. The Mexican hooker looks like Selma Hayek with Brando’s broken nose, and the craven male homosexual snivels behind the counter like a gay Gollum in a VERY retro worldview. There is no Tarantino irony here. I gave Chris a chance to reply about his “fag” clerk portrait by e-mail: “I was thinking making [Ray} too politically correct would be dishonest to his character (where he’s from, the time period, etc.,)…” I still found this problematic, since Ray’s standard macho view literally populates his world the way a square 1960s detective film might, where gay males are regulated to the rat-like, horrifyingly femme. This world plays out in a hellish Valhalla closer to the neo-anime of Afro Samurai than the grit and grime of a fresh-from-the-slam Ed Bunker tale. This is not to say that Chris’ neo-anime is not without its own charm, and early in the book I began imagining a satisfying graphic novel, a Chris D. Sin City.
But when Connie the stripper takes center stage, suddenly it all becomes more real, and Chris’ Jungian anima replaces Japanese anime. Here we can see where Feast of Snakes left off. Chris picked a hell of a novel to reference when he picked Harry Crews’ masterpiece. That Southern Gothic noir meets Day of the Locust never fails to convince that however unlikely or horrible things are, they are definitely really happening. So it is with Connie’s narrative. Not surprisingly, woman-on-woman bi-curiousity is quite natural and sensual in her world, that double standard of the so-called straight male.
Still, the plot unfolds with a riveting narrative that has many a Romantic poet’s turn of phrase:
The slats in the walls of the shack were exactly like the ribs of a skeleton and, during the heat of the day, looking like fire and feeling like radiation, burning everything away until I was in a white world of conflagration that ate away skin, leaving nothing but a blistering, blackened shell.*
He was one big question mark, from the tips of his scuffed-up Beatle boots to the army fatigue dungarees and garish purple polyester shirt he wore, to his googly pop eyes, pencil mustache and the ugly spit curls plastered across his mostly bald, sweaty head.
“You like disco?”*
“They’re drug dealers and they practice black magic.”
The kid glanced furtively at the hanging corpse then quickly turned away.*
A haze of of gauzy pink and red tapestries of ropy liquid snaked out of me. Paisley patterns of blood-drenched icons of dead, martyred saints from childhood prayer books materialized in a a levitating tableau. I saw my parents disappear in an accordion of mangled automobile beneath a fierce locomotive; Ray lying on his deathbed hideously burned and mortally wounded in the green votive light of his last refuge by managing to plug Jake and whisk his betrayer away from him; Billy “Bilbo” Bannon’s head being crushed beneath my plaster-cast arm; and last, but not least, a giant mirror of my naked body bound with rope and pierced with arrows, droplets of green fire licking my toes.
Any recovering Catholic will recognize the imprinted origins of Chris’s inspirations. I absolutely had to finish Mother’s Worry and my only main objection to the narrative itslef was that there are so many Southern good ole boys with similar names by the end, I wanted a chart to keep track of them all.
Chris has said that many of his novels were orginally film scripts, and one could see this one among them. It is far too late for Robert Aldrich to reincarnate and make Kiss Me Deadly for our modern cinema. Like Chris’ novel, that film is too overtly apocalyptic. Even Michael Winterbottom’s Thompson novel-to-film The Killer Inside Me or William Friedkin’s Killer Joe both squeeking by on screen are not signs that this could be made without a private bankroll. There is none of Taratino’s embarassed laughter or Hollywood’s sanitized A-picture heroics. It is a nasty little world and Chris has seen some of it himself, that is obvious. That’s why Mother’s Worry works a good deal of the time and I couldn’t stop reading until its last “suffering is everpresent” word.
Mother’s Worry, by Chris D., Poison Fang Books, $16.00
reviewed by Marc Olmsted