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The Fiction Issue 2010

Great Beatdowns in Literature

Street justice is a rare commodity in high literature. Unlike its companion universe of film, the realm of books is static and immutable.


treet justice is a rare commodity in high literature. Unlike its companion universe of film, the realm of books is static and immutable. Movie characters evolve and erode; there will always be a chance, no matter how remote, that film characters you don’t like will eventually find themselves beaten senseless in a remake. But a novel’s characters, once written, can never be unwritten. You may want to read about Pip, Puck, Poirot, or Portnoy getting curb-stomped into human jelly, but unless you write the grim act yourself, it will never happen (and even then, you’ll be relegated to grubby fan fiction).


Occasionally, however, those obnoxious literary characters slip up. Here are our faves.


At the climax of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, the villain Le Chiffre has 007 stripped naked and tied to a chair, then canes him in the balls for a solid hour. “It is not only the immediate agony,” Le Chiffre explains as he pulverizes Bond’s nads, “but also the thought that your manhood is being gradually destroyed and that at the end, if you will not yield, you will no longer be a man.” (One wonders whether the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Yeah, I’ll fuckin’ lay ya nuts on a fuckin’ dresser/ just ya nuts layin’ on a fuckin’ dresser/ and bang them shits with a spiked fuckin’ bat/ wassup BLAAA!!!” is an homage, or rather an instance of


.) Just when the villain is poised, knife in hand, to perform a Bronx vasectomy on the master spy, a SMERSH agent enters, wastes Le Chiffre, and carves the letter M into Bond’s right hand. Bond fully recovers from the ball-stomping; soon, he is enjoying full, frank, and regular intercourse with a woman named Vesper, with whom, he reflects, sex always has “the tang of rape.”


Buck—a big slobbering St. Bernard Scotch sheepdog thing—finds himself kidnapped, sold to brutes in Alaska, and turned into a sled slave. Because he doesn’t take kindly to confinement, Buck must be broken. This happens in a rather brutal one-page pounding that ends with the noble, 140-pound Buck crumpled and whimpering on the tundra. “After a particularly fierce blow he crawled to his feet, too dazed to rush. He staggered limply about, the blood flowing from nose and mouth and ears, his beautiful coat sprayed and flecked with bloody slaver.” The breaking, we read, has worked. “He saw, once and for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and all his life after he would never forget it.” To this, the modern reader must add: Big Fucking Whoop. Buck still doesn’t have to worry about a mortgage, car insurance, identity theft, pants, cyberstalking, ED, inflation, unregulated political spending, street gangs, megaflu, nuclear annihilation, or a Large Hadron supernova. Take a number, Cujo; we’ve all got problems.



Maurice, the Edmont Hotel’s pimp and elevator operator, flicks the scrotum of lit’s biggest whiner through his pajamas before whaling on him, dropping Holden’s fat ass like a greased tuba. Worse, Maurice calls Holden “chief”—WHAP!! That’s for John Lennon. You’d pimp-slap Holden too if you had to listen to his endless moaning about “vomity-looking” objects, things that are “crumby,” and people who are “phony,” not to mention the way he is always subliminally commanding you to kill celebrities and politicians. Yeah, Holden, spending all day smoking, drinking, and going to plays in the Manhattan of the 1950s sounds like a real bitch here in the postnuclear rubble of 2010, where it is illegal for people to gather in public, our schools are torn by race wars, and our children no longer remember a time when human beings lived aboveground. Did Holden Caulfield ever have to grind out a subsistence wage “working” as a “blowjob artist” in the refugee camps under Los Gatos? Was his youth stolen from him by the Mandatory Castration Act? Did he know the recovering jenkem addict’s crippling pain? It’s a good thing somebody put a hurting on this white boy and gave him something to cry about.


A hijacked jumbo jet explodes over the English Channel, dropping bodies “like tidbits of tobacco from a broken old cigar.” Indian actors Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha plummet five miles and wake on the beach. Since this apparently isn’t zany enough, Gibreel then transforms into an angel, while poor Saladin devolves into a goat demon. The goat-Saladin is promptly thrown into a windowless van by cops less concerned about his demonic demeanor than that he may be a “Paki” trying to enter the country illegally. From there, it’s pretty straightforward ultraviolence, with Saladin kicked in the ribs, balls, and face, gouged in “various parts of his anatomy,” and forced to eat his own “soft, pellety” shit. But unlike other beatings of the socially vulnerable (Uncle Tom,


Women in Love

’s Gudrun, all the countless ass whoopings administered to Janie in

Their Eyes Were Watching God

), this violence is sprinkled with so many allegories, allusions, and impenetrable non-Americanisms that it’s no less pleasant than an afternoon of Road Runner cartoons on Nyquil. And for this Rushdie gets a death sentence?


No gods, no masters, no pants were the only rules in 1830s Missouri, a time and place where a child would often walk into a door—a door named Pap. During the golden age of American child abuse, young’uns could catch hell for sneaking a corn-silk cigarette, for having smallpox, for being “too fancy” for smallpox, or for no reason at all. Huck’s drunk dad, who brags that he quit voting after he heard that a black man in Ohio had the franchise, beats the snot out of Huck for going to school and learning to read and write. It is hard not to take Pap’s side in this. Reading and writing are useless skills that have never done a thing for anybody. When’s the last time you got a job reading? During Pap’s struggle with Judge Thacker over custody of Huck and his money, Pap takes Huck out of the reach of the law’s long arm, to a secluded log cabin in the woods, where he alternately pounds on Huck and leaves him locked up on his own for days at a time. When home, Pap rants about “the govment” and “the nigger,” gets wasted on cheap booze, and chases Huck with a knife, “calling me the Angel of Death, and saying he would kill me, and then I couldn’t come for him no more.”



No George Romero zombie ever bitched and bellyached like Frankenstein’s monster. And I don’t seem to recall Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon embarking on anything close to this guy’s self-pity marathons. Let’s look at the facts. In chapter 11, the monster breaks into the shepherd’s house and wolfs down his breakfast of bread, cheese, milk, and wine. The correct term for this is “stealing.” Then he drunkenly stumbles into a village, finding himself “grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile objects” (in the 1838 “Complete and Uncut” version, Frank gets pelted with garbage bags, diapers, flower pots, and cinder blocks, and at one point someone runs out and brains him with a toilet). Instead of using the moment to reflect on his life of crime, the monster instead spends the rest of the story whining about the “barbarous villagers” to anyone who will listen. Subsequently, the book is now seen as a parable of intolerance, when really the moral is that a shepherd has the right to eat his meals in peace without some asshole food-junkie monster man barging in.


After Gloucester’s son Edmund narcs on him, the Duke of Cornwall has the Earl bound to a chair. Cornwall’s wife, Regan, plucks his beard, as grievous an insult during the reign of James I as it was in ancient Judea and continues to be in present-day Boulder. At the line “Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot,” Cornwall commences to add eyelessness to Gloucester’s list of problems. After Cornwall performs the first optectomy, his lifelong faithful servant interrupts to suggest, politely: Enough with the blinding? Those are fighting words. Cornwall draws his sword, and so does the servant, but Regan ends the duel, stabbing the servant in the back with a borrowed sword. Returning to Gloucester, Cornwall addresses his remaining eye as he pries it from his head: “Out vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?” Gloucester’s eye doesn’t have shit to say in return.



Life is pretty chill for Hippolytus until he finds out his stepmom, Phaedra, wants to pork him. First he’s all, “What?” Then he’s all, “Naw.” So she’s like, “Later.” Since the play is set long before its premiere in 428 BC, Phaedra has to laboriously engrave on a suicide tablet that Hippolytus raped her. Then she hangs herself. When Hippolytus’s dad, Theseus, gets home, he starts crying over her corpse to his father, the god Poseidon, all like, “Poseidon, my son is a punk. Poseidon, my son is a bitch. Please, O Lord of the sea: Kill my punk-ass, bitch-ass son.” So Grandpa dispatches a bull from the ocean that spooks Hippolytus’s horses, which bolt, dragging Hippolytus’s increasingly bruised, broken, hamburgered body behind them. Hippolytus is like, “DUDE!!!” Hippolytus is like, “MY PANCREAS!!!” He bellows Discharge’s “Why” as his beloved steeds bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate his big ass on the rocks of Troezen. Then the goddess Artemis appears to Theseus to vouch for Hippolytus’s innocence. Theseus is like, “Fuck, dude, I didn’t mean to, like,


him, kill him. Fuck! Dude. Seriously?!” Unlike

Oedipus Rex

, which portrays incest as a tragedy,


presents incest as a way tragedy might have been averted. If Jim Morrison had read


, perhaps he would have sung, “Stepmother? I want to… MY PANCREAS!!!”



Bunny Hoover, son of businessman Dwayne Hoover, is “a notorious homosexual” who plays piano in the cocktail lounge of a Holiday Inn. Refreshingly, Bunny’s battering is not a hate crime, instead coming in the midst of his own dad’s psychotic rampage. Bunny’s beating isn’t the worst of the book, but it is the most dramatic, with Dwayne rolling his kid’s head “like a cantaloupe up and down the keys of the piano.” Later, in the ambulance, Bunny’s face is “unrecognizable, even as a face.”

Even more refreshing is that Hoover’s beating happens in the presence of its author. Vonnegut wills himself into the narrative for the explicit purpose of watching the violence (and suffers a broken toe in the melee). Even Christ’s scourging and tortures—the gold standard of all smackdowns in perpetuity—occurred without the direct, live-in-person participation of its architect. Finally a writer takes responsibility for our entertainment. Sorry, Bunny, that’s what you get for being a fictional character.


The brilliance of Job’s beatdown is that it never involves any actual beating. Instead, God and Satan use the poor slob as both a spiritual football and guinea pig—the original spirit-guinea pigskin—without ever setting a finger on him. First Job’s sheep, camels, and servants burn down in a mysterious fire, effectively putting him out of business. When Job calls up the prayer complaint hotline, God says, “Gosh, Job, that’s a tough break, hopefully you had insurance?” Then Job’s ten kids get smooshed. He calls Satan for some commiseration, and Satan says, “Gee, Job, that’s rough but, you know,


force majeure

, shit happens, better luck next batch.” Still, Job’s faith doesn’t budge, a display of masochistic devotion that gets him covered in “sore boils” from head to toe. God’s like, “Ouch, Job, looks bad, have you switched soaps or detergents lately?” Instead of giving God what for, Job plops down in the rubble, scraping at his festering skin-pepperonis with bits of broken crockery and trusting that everything will work itself out. It’s a marvel of passive-aggressive cop-outs, and kind of provides a punishment-fits-the-crime neatness to the whole affair.


Dante Alighieri took a hard line on simony: What part of zero-fucking-tolerance don’t you understand? Yes, the

Divine Comedy

’s strong, positive anti-simony message still comforts and inspires young readers who are struggling with questions of faith today. Though we can all endorse his condemnation of sodomy, some other positions Dante took on the issues of his day are just as provocative and controversial in ours: Take his stance on the pope’s temporal powers, or his views on Italian prosody, or his hopes for the constitution of the Florentine state. As for Boniface VIII himself, well, the pope needed to have his wide ass whupped and handed to him sideways, and you could quote Dante on that. But if there was one thing Dante and Pope Boniface VIII, damned though he was, could agree on, it was this: Judas Iscariot seriously fucked up when he sold out our Lord, and so he deserved the most brutal stomping of all time, for all time. Dante therefore damned Judas to Satan’s pit at the very bottom of Hell, where Satan, crying with his six eyes, forever chews Judas’s head in one of his three mouths. Satan scratches at Judas’s body as it hangs from his mouth, clawing his spine “naked of skin.”



Soon after the delivery of the Trojan horse, a priest of Neptune named Laocoön makes a number of good points to the crowd: The Greeks are crafty and deceitful; the horse is probably an “engine of war against our walls, to spy into our homes and come down upon the city from above”; and there are probably a bunch of Greeks hiding inside the horse. He then demonstrates that the horse is hollow by striking it with his spear. But Sinon, a Greek warrior whom the Trojans have captured with suspicious ease, distracts the crowd with his sob story, and Laocoön goes off to sacrifice a bull to Neptune. As he is killing the bull, two serpents with “blazing eyes suffused with blood and fire” come out of the sea, wrap themselves around his two sons, and start eating. Laocoön wades into the “gore and black venom” to save his boys, but the serpents wrap themselves around his waist and throat, and pretty soon Laocoön is screaming like, yes, a sacrificial bull. After wasting priest and family, the serpents head straight for a shrine to Minerva, which convinces the Trojans that Laocoön was justly punished for profaning the goddess’s sacred horse with his spear, and that he was just “being a fag” about the horse in general.


Chandler’s detective takes a lot of beatings, but all Angelenos can relate to the one he gets checking out psychic Jules Amthor. A smelly “Hollywood Indian” named Second Planting takes Marlowe’s gun away, jams his knee in Marlowe’s spine, and pins his arms back. Then he gets Marlowe in a body scissors, wraps his hands around Marlowe’s throat, and chokes him until he passes out. When Marlowe comes to after that smackdown, his eyes are full of blood, and Amthor and Second Planting are pistol-whipping him in the jaw with his own gun. It’s cool, though: The Bay City cops show up, help Marlowe to their car, give him a ride to the edge of town, and beat him unconscious. When he wakes up in a locked room in a junkie doctor’s office, he’s been tied down and shot full of heroin and scopolamine for two days, and he thinks the room is on fire. Outrageous by the standards of 1940, when


Farewell, My Lovely

was first published, 70 years later Marlowe’s nadir just sounds like a pleasant weekend in the Southland. In today’s LA metropolitan area, even a single, white professional between the ages of 25 and 40 who has some graduate education and earns $60,000 or more annually will spend an average of 2.3 hours a week fellating strange men for groceries. Private detectives, by contrast, now live in their cars, suffer savage beatings at the hands of marauding Suicidals, and fellate strange animals for nourishment.


Mitchell is the baby of the bunch, a 2003 entry from crime author and

The Wire

writer Richard Price. The story revolves around Mitchell’s beating by an assailant he refuses to identify, a massive head blow that “announced itself as an odor and a sound—a singed smelling, high-pitched whine, dog whistle high.”


is peppered with all sorts of delightful little tidbits about traumatic brain injury. Which is good, because Ray would be simply insufferable if we didn’t already know about the sloshing, bruising, Mohammed Ali punishment in store for that do-gooder brain of his.


This tale of teen rebellion concerns Jerry Renault, a freshman who challenges his private high school’s cruel social order. Jerry’s refusal to sell chocolates in the annual fund drive climaxes in a boxing match attended entirely by jeering schoolchildren. In the savage three-page assault that follows, the young protagonist is systematically beaten, bludgeoned, clobbered, dick-punched, face-crunched, kidney-gouged, knee-breached, pancreas-stomped, retina-kicked, taint-bashed, and uterus-nuked. All that remains on the floor of the ring is a gurgling abomination of blood and hair. Conveniently, his beatdown is a just punishment no matter where the reader stands. Fans of conformity (Jerry didn’t, after all, sell the chocolates) get the same satisfaction as fans of individuality (Jerry attempts to renounce all his convictions afterward, although his tongue and face are too shredded to do much more than produce a few feeble farting noises). Renault’s drippy remains are shoveled into a burlap sack labeled


and the rest of the school holds an impromptu ice-cream social. It’s a rare happy ending in the Cormier oeuvre, and one with a powerful strong message.


As a much-abused civil servant of Airstrip One, Smith undergoes a series of vicious beatings and tortures even before stepping through the doors of the dreaded Room 101. It’s sad, kind of, until you realize that he’s had ample opportunities to avoid this fate. Winston and Julia make freaky humpadoos in the woods; why doesn’t he just camp out there? What would have stopped him from slyly packing a bindle and hoofing it out of Airstrip One entirely? His career? Sure, he would’ve had to build some sort of boat or raft. So what? Monks were doing this in the fifth century. Sure, he would’ve had to find an island or wilderness area uncontrolled by Big Brother. Ingsoc doesn’t even control the prole hoods, so why would they have a stranglehold on some quaint little isle off the Scottish coast? The more you think about it, the harder and harder it becomes to have any sympathy whatsoever for someone who basically hands himself over to the Man. To quote Howard Stern (speaking about Rodney King), they didn’t beat this idiot enough.


In Chaucer’s hilarious bedroom farce, Cambridge students John and Aleyn pay a visit to the dishonest miller Symkyn and check out what coitus with his wife and daughter feels like. When he gets wise, Symkyn picks Aleyn up by the “throte-bolle” and bloodies his nose. They brawl; Symkyn’s wife hauls out the family staff and tries to play street baseball with the college boy’s head, but she was “y-fostred in a nonnerye” and just winds up dealing her husband a skull-crushing blow. Aleyn’s friend John is conspicuously absent from the fight until Symkyn cries, “I dye!”—at which point John finds his testicles, and he and Aleyn lace up their Docs, dog-pile on Symkyn, and beat him like the Vietnamese kids in

Romper Stomper

(1992). Pundits and media watchdogs rush to blame the crime on Oi! “music.” As singer Jimmy Pursey delivers an elliptical but passionate defense of the genre during a televised debate, a ten-by-ten-foot copy of Discharge’s “State Violence State Control” single (Clay 1982) falls from the sky, crushing the icon. He was 55.