Some of your favorite books were written while its author was filled with rage.
American Psycho By Bret Easton Ellis
This bro was pissed as fuck when he wrote this book! Apparently it’s not that fun to become mega famous off a book you wrote in college about college bros getting messed up and fucking, then marrying a rich woman and getting messed up every day too? Really, though, of all Ellis’s writing, this one is something else: it kind of takes the chode-ish obviousness of writing about banal rich kid life and turns it on its face. From the famous force-the-starving-rat-up-the-prostitute’s-ass to the blank descriptions of Phil Collins—in which I swear I get more feeling than most any of the anthologized-type American literature most traditionalists worship—this book is searing and hilarious on every page. And for as insane and over-the-top as people will tell you Ellis gets here, it’s actually massively fixated in how precisely dude’s brain had snapped at the time. Writing angry can be like writing drunk in that you’ll come back after the fact and see all you’ve done is shit all over some paper. But here it works, because Ellis was so tuned in to feeling like a fuck and he understood people's tendency to just implode after a while. I could give a crap about his other novels but this one is something else. I wish he was this pissed at himself more often.
J R by Williams Gaddis
Twenty years after his 950-page debut, The Recognitions, which pretty much everyone at the time took a shit all over, Gaddis came back with his second novel just shy of the same length. Whereas his first one was about painting forgers, this one is about money and a kid who can seemingly produce it out of thin air, trading penny stocks and other worthless paper until he’s amassed a fortune out of nothing. I’ve honestly never read a book that’s as big of a fuck you, over and over, to anybody, in my life. About 90 percent of the book is dialogue all held in an endless string of paragraphs, following one character after another as they bump into each other wherever in the world. And though the dialogue itself is amazing, spot on to how people really talk and hilarious in how ridiculous and confounded they all are, the tone of the book just seems to swoop around a center, screaming, “No one gives a shit about this and you aren’t listening and I’m tired and what the fuck.” Brief paragraphs crammed in the transom of conversation reveal some of the most bananas sentences you could ask for, all played almost as asides amongst people just blabbering about their money and what should be done with it, talking over one another, bleating. Seems like Gaddis meant to use his insane talent to crap on the face of everyone who read him, while still entertaining them to the point that he was able to win the National Book Award and bring the light back to his masterpiece—a triple retroactive fuck you even to himself.
Following on the heels of his masterpiece, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, which was rejected 54 times by every conceivable major publisher until finally getting picked up by Dalkey Archive in 1988, David Markson published a series of four books all bearing a similar brunt: sequenced lists of famous people and what they said or did or how they died. Stuff like: “Albert Camus’ father was killed in the Battle of the Marne when Camus was only months old. His mother was an illiterate charwoman.” And: “This morning I walked to the place where the streetcleaners dump the rubbish. My God, it was beautiful. Says a van Gogh letter.” It’s a mesmerizing amassment of fact that blazes through the hell of people as quietly and matter-of-factly as one could manage, with only a small smattering of the idea of someone behind the ideas there lurking, getting older, unto death. “I have come to this place because I have no life back there at all,” says a line on the opening page of the first in the quadrilogy. And somewhere near the end of The Last Novel, published three years before the author’s death: “Poetry makes nothing happen. Auden said.” Of course you could read any of these fragments, and their assemblage, as a testament to something bigger—and how they come together is truly compelling and unlike anything else around—and yet it’s impossible to shake the sense that here is the final project of a man who had been through the ringer of the mind enough times to finally rest in peace. The fact that when he did finally die his books were taken to the Strand as a donation at his request and sold from there to just whoever seems totally like the icing on the ice.
Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
I have no idea what was really going through Stein’s mind when she wrote this, but to me it reads like the greatest stand-up comedy routine of all time. Not the sort of comedy that is meant to tickle your ass, but the sort that makes your blood peel and shits in 95 percent of people’s mouths while making the others think in tongues. “Is it so a noise to be is it a least remain to rest, is it a so old say to be, is it a leading are been. Is it so, is it so, is it so, is it so is it so is it so. Eel us eel us with no no pea no pea cool, no pea cool cooler, no pea cooler with a land a land cost in, with a land cost in stretches.” Sounds like me when I’m so angry I can’t even think to speak, though here she’s talking about food, the ultimate power violence topic du jour. For real now. Girl was on one.
Watchfiends and Rack Screams by Antonin Artaud
Really anything by Artaud could have been on this list. Dude spent his entire life enraged and sleepwalking and on opiates and poor and violent and depressed to the point of finally really losing it. This last book is made up of things he scribbled down in the final three years of his life, while imprisoned in an asylum at Rodez. By this time he’d gone beyond the point of coherent fury and was ranting in an arcane sense, like: “The mental world was never anything but that which remains from a hellish trampling of organs while the man who wore them is no more.” Or: “I have to tell you that you’ve always made me crap. So get the quim-wig for your scrubby grope-slope croupswarmed, you crab lice of eternity.” This was in 1947. Today, somebody should mail this to all the congressmen with a gallon of Horsey sauce and some lube.
Poemland by Chelsey Minnis
I don’t even know how to describe Chelsey Minnis but to quote her: “If you want to be a poem-writer then I don’t know why… / It hurts like a puff sleeve dress on a child prostitute / Nothing makes it very true… / Except the promised sincerity of death!”
For further freak-out reading:
Today I Wrote Nothing by Danil Kharms
Pigeon Post by Dumitru Tsepeneag
Correction by Thomas Bernhard
Povel by Geraldine Kim