And when I say I love Laura Lindsay, I mean I love Laura Lindsay more than a 39-year-old man with a wife and a kid should love a 21-year-old girl.
Especially one I’ve never met.
One I’ll probably never meet.
And one who in all likelihood is dead.
And when I say she in all likelihood is dead, I mean we just don’t know.
Somebody probably knows.
But I’ll never fucking know.
And Pete and Repeat down at the Loving Laura Lindsay podcast will probably never know.
And her family probably doesn’t know.
The police don’t know. They don’t know! Trust me, even though every local resident of Brattleboro, Vermont thinks the police not only know but are in on her disappearance, they don’t know. There is not some huge police coverup of Laura Lindsay’s vanishing. They police may be corrupt. But an entire dynasty of police covering up essential information that could clear this thing up forever — for the family, for the town, for everyone — not likely. Trust me, in my 20 years of true crime investigation, it’s just never happened. Not once. The police do not know where Laura Lindsay is.
No one fucking knows.
Well, maybe Lisa Morabito.
She might know.
But she won’t talk to fucking anyone.
I went to that bitch’s house to ask her some questions.
She acted like a murderer.
And I’ve interviewed fucking murderers.
Every fucking murderer I’ve met has been nicer than this fucking bitch.
Talk about making yourself conspicuous.
She yells, “How did you find me?” and slams the door in my face.
I mean a smart murderer — or someone with something to hide — would invite you in, make you coffee, chat it up with you for half an hour, and act like they had nothing to hide. Can you imagine Ted Bundy slamming the door in someone’s face? No, you fucking cannot. Smart people with something to hide don’t act like they have something to hide. Lisa Morabito knows where Laura Lindsay is — I guarantee it. I would cut off my left testicle if Lisa Morabito doesn’t know what happened to Laura Lindsay. That bitch fucking knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if, the day I went to Lisa Morabito’s house, Laura Lindsay wasn’t right behind the door listening to everything we said. And by everything we said I mean Lisa telling me to get off her motherfucking porch.
I get told that a lot as an investigative journalist.
Get off my fucking porch.
I’m gonna call the cops if you don’t get off my motherfucking porch.
I have a shotgun and I’m gonna blow your motherfucking head off if you don’t exit yourself off my motherfucking porch in the next five seconds.
People don’t necessarily like to answer questions about their missing daughters, neighbors, and residents of their jurisdiction. But when a white, 21-year-old girl goes missing — just goes poof in the middle of the night and a body is never found, a person is never found, her credit cards are never used again, ground searches turn up nothing, helicopters with forward-facing radar turn up nothing..that’s a story. People want to know. And that’s where I come in.
I write true crime books.
I’ve written three.
The book on Laura Lindsay would have been my fourth.
But things got fucked up.
I had this camp counsellor. Used to lecture us on the importance of carrying foot powder. Said, “You never know when a ten-minute walk is going to turn into a five-day survival hike.”
He was right.
That guy was right.
He was motherfucking right.
And that’s what happened with this Laura Lindsay situation. What should have been a ten-minute hike turned into a five-day survival hike.
And I wasn’t carrying my foot powder.
A fucking bitch goes missing. It happens all the time.
Then Seventeen and the local papers and the Investigation Discovery channel come in and do their thing.
I come in and do my thing.
I try to keep it to a higher level.
I mean I have a fucking degree in this shit.
So for them it’s sensation. It’s leaving out facts to imply that things happened that didn’t really happen.
But I’m trying to make a living at this shit.
This is my fucking reputation, you know?
I got to get this shit fucking right, or people will never buy my books again.
So I find an angle.
But I find a true angle.
At least that’s what normally happens.
But with Laura Lindsay, it was like that bitch was specifically trying to fuck with not only this book, but my entire career.
She refused to be pinned down.
And I wanted to pin that bitch down. The more time went on, the more I wanted to pin her down in the nastiest way. It was like she was asking to be fucked — and I mean fucked — but she only wanted to be fucked by someone worthy of finding her.
Or her dead corpse.
Which I wasn’t going to do — fuck her dead corpse. But finding her dead corpse would have been as good as fucking the live Laura Lindsay — at least for me it would have. But the problem is Laura Lindsay’s dead corpse wouldn’t reveal itself.
The bitch parks her wrecked car in the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter on Brattleboro Road in Hinsdale, New Hampshire.
By all accounts she walks in.
By all accounts she never walks out.
She never goes back to her car.
She’s never found in the Walmart.
Police were on her tail for driving erratically. They thought she was drunk — which she probably was.
They saw her walk into the Walmart Supercenter.
They saw the fucking bitch get out of a wrecked car — windshield cracked, axles broken — and go into that Walmart.
Then that was it.
There has never been a credible sighting of Laura since.
Now either she’s hiding out working in the produce section, or that bitch snuck out the back and wandered into the woods and died of a head wound..or maybe she committed suicide..or maybe she was abducted.
Or maybe Laura Lindsay staged one of the most brilliant disappearances in the history of intentional goddamned motherfucking disappearances.
The question is: just how smart is Laura Lindsay?
Is she smart enough to intentionally wreck her car — but not enough to kill herself — to put bottles of alcohol in her passenger seat to lead us all to believe she was drunk, to have someone waiting for her in an SUV behind the Walmart, walk casually through the back warehouse and get in the friendly vehicle, and disappear to Canada with her new boyfriend or Lisa Morabito, and then live so quietly that she never raises any kind of flag on any kind of radar? Change her name? Work quietly in some coffeehouse in a tiny town and maintain the discipline of never contacting her family again?
Did she want to get away that fucking bad?
If so, why?
Are the sexual abuse theories correct? Because whether there was actual sexual abuse or not, and whether she meant to kill herself or just get away for the weekend — or if she meant to get away forever — the intentional disappearance theories do hold one thread in common for me.
And that was that she was trying to get away from something.
And I believe that something was her family.
But, dear reader of present book, don’t become distracted by the theories surrounding Laura Lindsay’s disappearance.
Because that is the least important thing about this story.
Theories come. Theories go.
But you know what’s constant?
People’s obsession with the dead.
Or people’s obsession with the missing.
And you know what’s become really constant for me?
My obsession with Laura Lindsay.
I mean I’m about to get fucking divorced over this shit.
I have a wife. I have a five-year-old daughter.
That’s what I should be paying attention to.
Licking my wife’s pussy when we’re in bed at night.
Kissing my daughter’s forehead and reading the motherfucking Berenstain Bears.
Right? That’s where my focus should lie.
A little book writing on the side. A little investigation. Write a decent book on Laura Lindsay.
That’s just not how it’s worked out.
My writing room looks like a cross between John Nash’s woodshed in A Beautiful Mind and the den of a serial killer stalking his next victim.
Laura Lindsay is my victim.
She’s no longer my research subject.
She’s my motherfucking victim.
I should be making phone calls to the residents of Brattleboro and Hinsdale. Instead I’m driving to Vermont.
I live in fucking California, people.
I have regular hotels I stay at in Brattleboro.
The bartenders recognize me.
The day drinkers recognize me.
They all know I’m writing a book.
They know it’s about their Laura Lindsay.
And you want to know something about New Englanders? For one, it’s that they don’t tell you shit until they get to know you. You can’t just ask a New Englander a question. Fuck. The bartender won’t even serve you a drink unless he knows you. It’s a very mind your own business type of place. So when writers come in — especially after every cheese news outlet in the world has already come and gone, raped the towns and every shop owner in them for information about this missing girl — they’re not exactly welcoming. I mean, in a way, you get the sense that everybody but you knows exactly what happened to Laura Lindsay and it’s your job to find some special key to put in some special lock to get them to simply tell you what it was.
I hoped to do that by hanging around Vermont and New Hampshire as much as possible, making myself seem local.
My wife was not a fan of this idea.
My daughter was not a fan of this idea.
I started off not being a fan of the idea, either, but the more I flew into Burlington and rode the Amtrak down to Brattleboro, and the more tantalizing but minuscule clues these fucking Vermonters dealt out to me (one card at a time), the more Vermont became my home and California became the inconvenience of being further from the facts.
You have to understand something about locals.
Locals know what is going on.
Whether it be the locals of a family, a town, a club..the locals know what is going on, either by intuition or by proximity. But locals see things that outsiders don’t see by the simple fact of their being around all the time. So locals are where your story is. Trust me. If your serial killer goes to Florida, you go to Florida. You’re gonna meet someone, wandering around a dock polishing a boat, who knows where your killer is. You’re not gonna get that making fucking phone calls from California.
With a missing person, you need the family.
The family knows.
Nine times out of ten, the family knows.
That’s why I was so frustrated with Mike Lindsay.
I didn’t think he knew.
In fact I was pretty sure he didn’t have any idea where his daughter was.
But I’d bet you my right testicle he knows somebody who does.
That’s why it irked me so much that motherfucker was so motherfucking unhelpful when it came to finding his daughter.
Wouldn’t you at least want to find her dead body, rotting in the woods of Vermont, clutching that last bottle of gin she grabbed from her car, nursing herself with a little alcoholic warmth before she froze to death?
I realize I haven’t established the bottle of gin.
I’m a bad narrator. Spank me and send me home from school.
Well, look, I don’t want to get into a bunch of details since this is just the intro chapter and shit, but I’ll tell you one thing:
This book is about how Laura Lindsay fucked my life.
If I could force you to read a philosophy book, it would be Beyond Good and Evil. Yes, Nietzsche was that influential. Yes, parts of this book suck. Maxims and Interludes and Peoples and Fatherlands are the worst chapters in the book. We all hate them. We all skip them when we read it. Even college professors do. It’s ok. The rest of the book is still so good that, in my mind, if you haven’t read this book, you don’t know shit about shit.
(If I could force you to read The Archaeology of Knowledge, I would, but it’s too hard a book to expect people to read. I feel like if you haven’t read The Archaeology of Knowledge, then we can’t converse. And I don’t know anyone else who’s read it. So I feel I can’t converse with anyone.)
If I could force you to read one book—just one in all the world—it would be The Little Prince. It’s more important than the Bible (in the context of this list). If you disagree with that last statement you are insane—get yourself to a mental hospital tonight. If you had to show one film to aliens to make them understand our culture, you would show them Pulp Fiction. If they preferred to read, you would give them The Little Prince.
If I had to pick one novel to force you to read, it would be The Secret History. It’s not as good as some of the classics, but fuck the classics. This is the best novel of the current age. Hear me? This doesn’t mean it’s my favorite novel, it just means I think if you had to read one novel to understand what a novel is now, it would be this one.
If I had to pick one art book, I would force you to look at H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon II. Fields of cocks and cunts dripping, fucking, covered in warts. Almost-abstract cityscapes. If you don’t get Giger, then you honestly don’t belong on planet Earth. Move to a different planet.
My favorite artists are Basquiat, Twombly, Botticelli—but I would never force you to look at them. This isn’t a list about my favorites. It’s a list about contemporary cultural necessities.
The only other visual art I would force you to look at is M. C. Escher.
One general science book
For a long time I would have said Silent Spring for a science book but Silent Spring is old news. Everybody knows that we fucked up the planet so it doesn’t have the punch it used to. Guess I gotta be hypocritical and go with Gleick’s Chaos. Like with Silent Spring, the science here is old news—five year olds understand it intrinsically. But as a story of scientific discovery, this is one of the most exciting books ever written.
I am well aware for a science book the largest majority of you would have picked Gödel, Escher, Bach. Consider your complaints noted without comment.
Semi-technical books (accessible to anyone)
For a semi-technical book, I would force each and every one of you to read A New Kind of Science (main text, not the endnotes). I’m sorry, but if you haven’t read this book, you are clueless in like a thousand ways.
For another semi-technical book, Applied Cryptography (the concepts sections, not the detailed algorithm sections). It’s embarrassing that almost no one knows what digital cash is, or a cryptographic digital signature. Embarrassing. The general concepts in this book should be known by a fifth grader. No hyperbole: if you don’t know what a digital signature is, you should be ashamed to live.
It would go against the concept of this list to pick one biography.
One children’s book
Children’s books are the most important to read. Where the Wild Things Are is the king of these. If you can’t get lost in this book, I am sorry to tell you that a piece of you is missing. And I don’t consider The Little Prince a children’s book.
I could recommend a million books—and I’d love to—but this list isn’t about recommendations. These are the nine books that I wish I could force you to read so that you would have the bare minimal framework upon which we could have a semblance of a conversation. Absent that, it is my distinct opinion that you and I reside in disconnected worlds.
Have you heard of Best Picture? It’s an award given to movies, right?
Best Picture used to be an award. Now it’s a genre.
Because now that the award has been around a while, people make movies with the intention of winning Best Picture. Such a movie is in the Best Picture genre.
I love the movie A Beautiful Mind—it’s technically perfect, and as someone whose mental health problems worsened after the movie came out, I’ve grown to love it for other reasons. And I love Ron Howard. He is one of my favorite directors. But A Beautiful Mind is a Best Picture. Yes, it won the award Best Picture, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It was constructed to be a Best Picture—the genre Best Picture. Some movies are made to win Best Picture—some are not. To win Best Picture, you have to a) cast Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, and Jennifer Connelly, b) get music by James Horner, c) photography by Roger Deakins, d) get so and so writers and a true story and e) fucking Ron Howard. I’m not demeaning these people. I’m a film lover. These people are gods to me. But A Beautiful Mind wasn’t made with the intention of being a great film—it was made with the intention of being a Best Picture. And it won the award, but that is incidental—it achieved inclusion in the genre of Best Picture. Even if it hadn’t won Best Picture, it still would have been a Best Picture.
There are other examples. Avatar was a pathetic attempt. A terrible movie. But obviously a movie intended for the Best Picture genre.
Now get rid of your hierarchies. Stop worshipping. Let’s take down another concept intended as a pedestal for holding greatness which is, quite simply, just a genre.
Some of you are going to have trouble with this one. But take the leap with me.
It’s not a value judgement. It’s not a bar to be vaulted over. It’s not an award—just as Best Picture is not an award.
It is a genre.
Just like a Best Picture film, a masterpiece painting or book or other work of art contains certain elements which put it in the genre of masterpiece. Winning Best Picture is not some random process. Neither is constructing a masterpiece.
Let’s focus on books. Consider As I Lay Dying, The Grapes of Wrath, and Fahrenheit 451. Forgive the American focus but I know American books best. Those aren’t my favorite books, but they are books which are universally considered masterpieces. If you disagree with that statement then we are too far apart and you might as well stop reading this post. You may like those books, you may dislike them, however those three books are undisputed masterpieces of American literature—but why?
Discuss basic, gritty, core issues of human life in this society.
Push the boundaries of style/structure such that they are not quite what most people would even consider a book—maybe they’re 2% more than a book, maybe they’re 2% less than a book due to these experimentations, but they are a little off of what people consider a normal book.
On the last point but further: they are demanding to read, in their various ways. Like it or not, this is part of why people consider something a masterpiece. Look at Guernica. Look at Basquait. Are simple things considered masterpieces? Not really. Think of the book The Giving Tree by the master Shel Silverstein. It looks simple. But it has the same qualities as these other American masterpieces, not least of which is that for most of us, it is extremely demanding to read (emotionally). Consider another Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men. Seems simple, but it’s really, really not. Consider the pinnacle American fiction of this type: The Old Man and the Sea. Simplest plot in all of literature, right? No =)
On the previous point but closer: there is a reason I said 2% and not 20%. There’s a maxim that people with slightly higher than average IQs make good leaders, but people with very high IQs do not—because if your IQ is too much greater than your would-be followers, they don’t even understand what you’re saying, so you can’t lead them. I suggest that a masterpiece, while it may be far ahead of its time, while it may be long enduring, doesn’t push the envelope too far or else it can’t be recognized as a masterpiece right away. My best example of this is the film Enter the Void by Gaspar Noé. Normally I can feel confident rating a film on a five-star scale. With this film I can’t. It’s not three stars or fewer. It’s greater than four stars. But it’s not a five-star film—not because it’s less than five stars—it doesn’t even fit on the scale. It’s not a six-star film. It’s just not on the fucking scale. It does something so different that it can’t even be recognized as a masterpiece by most people. It’s in a different world than the world of ratings and masterpieces and successes and failures. It’s beyond a masterpiece—it’s hard for our eyes to even see. Almost 30 years after his death, Basquiat’s work is still hard for many eyes to see. Three decades after its construction, it shines too bright to be universally included in the masterpiece genre. He changed the picture by way more than 2% and it’s going to take a while for the world to come around on the recognition of that oeuvre.
Each work obeys a pacing, like the editing and music of a Best Picture.
Each is out of this world. Like a Best Picture, they are hyperreal. They are based on a world the reader/viewer easily accepts, but they quickly veer into territory that is totally unreal. They own reality—they do not bow to it.
They are kaleidoscopic. Like a Best Picture, they take an initial kernel of story or reality and spin it out way beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected. They are epic. You can give them previews that entice an audience that reveal 1/10 of the whole. They deliver. A masterpiece may leave you wanting more, but it always gives you more than you expected. Way more.
Right, so there are other qualities of art in general that I think place it in the genre of masterpiece, but those are a few to start with.
Come with me down this evil rabbit hole and stop thinking of masterpiece as a value judgement..and consider it just a genre.
Have you ever done meth? I’m reading Candy on her trip and whilst it sounds convincing to me, who am I to tell, I’ve never been there. Is it enough to have observed someone to be able to depict the experience?
Yeah, about 10 years ago. I have first-hand experience.
Now, I’ve gone the other way..even stopped drinking alcohol over two years ago..works better for me this way.
Have you ever really watched a snuff video, Matthew? Did it turn you on?
No. It’s not something I’ve sought out. I don’t think it would bring me or anyone any joy.
The closest I’ve come to that was about 10 years ago someone in film school ambushed me, showing me a Faces of Death video of someone fatally shooting himself in the head. It did the opposite of excite me. I was extremely disturbed by it. It is something I wish I could un-see.
It is not pleasant for me to watch other people hurt, even in small ways. Sexually, I’m most excited by watching the other person get off, be pleasured..that’s what makes me tick. Moderate, mutual, consensual pain is ok for me. Maybe not that moderate. But consensual. Having power over someone doesn’t excite me sexually or otherwise. Not into power, think it’s for amateurs =) Except for mild power fantasies like a mutual consensual rape fantasy for example. Political power, social, sexual, whatever..infantile. No psychologically, spiritually mature person has a real need to control another. Not how I imagine grown ups treat each other. I have seen documentaries that show some people are only sexually excited by violence, not by others’ pleasure. They can’t help it; I don’t judge them. That doesn’t happen to be me, though.
I’m totally squeamish. When the music gets scary in (even the most harmless) films, there’s me, diving under the duvet..
..and yet there’s something about violence that turns me on..
..can’t explain it..
..but I’ve never watched a snuff and I’ve never done drugs.
I get you (apart from the consensual rape..isn’t that an oxymoron?)
in Verses Nature we’ve got Carmina, who is the indignant victim of conjugal violence, yet the willing participant in love games with Tatar; games involving belts, barbed wire, bottles and other instruments which are never named, instruments leaving bruises which she carries home with her like trophies. I don’t need to explain that, to smooth out the inconsistency or make facts rhyme. We don’t rhyme. That’s the beauty and the fascination of it. Of us.
I almost asked, but I was afraid to discuss it any further. But I’m glad to know where you come out on it.
I may be more turned on by sexual violence than I think..I sure write about it a lot. I can certainly say I find it fascinating. Rape fascinates me but I don’t think, in the actual situation, I’d be able to get it up, because if the victim was distressed I would feel for them too much to enjoy myself. But I think about it and have role-played it. Truly, I find it fascinating and boring at the same time!
Normal violence is uninteresting to me. Just like shooting someone or beating someone. Torture is more interesting. Sexual torture more interesting. Mental manipulation more interesting. I don’t know, Joan, we’re strange creatures =)
Yes, consensual rape..it’s an oxymoron. Doh!
We don’t rhyme..one is not going to find a better summation than that, my friend. Well said!!
But the proof is in the pudding..my actual porn collection? 100% solo women masturbating. I like to see women happy (without having to see other men). I’m very straight, and very into seeing a woman get off. Very boring, perhaps, but it’s a pretty rock-solid measure of what I really like. Lol.
There’s a few men in some of them..I don’t hate my own kind that much =)
I’ve never bought/had a porn mag. I remember coming home from school one day and my dad was at home with a friend of his. There was the cover of a porn film on the mantelpiece and I could see what I would then have called women’s privates. I left the room to get something and when I came back, the video had gone.
Porn would bore me, I’m sure. It’s all fake. I like what goes on in my own mind more. Sometimes it gets me going so much that I cum. Hands-free. Just my wild mind and my nerves out in the open.
I’ve just finished MCC and can’t make up my mind if I need a week to recover or if I should go right back to the beginning and start reading all over again.
Thank you for an amazing experience. Palahniuk, go back to your trailer park!
Thank you..thank you so much for reading it and sharing your reaction.
I will leave you to your imagination and open nerves..imagination is the best.
To call this a stone cold masterpiece is right on. I can’t wait to showcase this on my blog! Do you think I could include some of our correspondence? I’ll always show you what I plan to publish so you can give it the green lights before it goes live. I think the conversations are great blog material if we have the courage to share it, precisely because they are authentic. But I don’t want you to think that any of this was premeditated. I can still ask you other questions which my re-reading of MCC will throw up; questions on style, or about the characters, etc. In fact, I’ve got one right now: Tell me more about Liss. Why did you create/need her? She’s quite savvy for a nine year old..in fact, what inspired you to come up with the plot?
Thanks for not laughing me out of the room at my boastful description of the book. I’m the last person with any objectivity to judge it. But as I think back on that book, I do think it has a technical..I can only say mastery..where stuff just came together correctly.
You are welcome to use any correspondence! I would love that. No need to give me a green light ability..I trust what you do. I’m honored that you’re choosing to write about it. I love the book and I don’t mean as its author..I mean as a person who is now equidistant from it with you. By the way, I recommended it to you, as I hinted at before, because I thought its mentality bore some similarity to your own. I am not trying to butter you up, but due to this book’s stylistic irruptions and subtlety I don’t think there are many people who would appreciate it as you have — and that is a special gift you have given me.
I started with the title, as I often do. I had notes for a quite different story which I abandoned the morning of starting writing, as I often do! I like to plan a story and then abandon it and write something entirely different.
This story is constructed from a few different angles, quite simply, and they just came together better than the mere author could have known:
– The title just came to me from my subconscious. It suggested at least a three-way ambiguity: does it mean a murder club led by someone named Candy or is it a statement of someone’s objective to murder a club called Candy or is it a description of hard drugs: murder club candy, candy being the drugs? I liked these ambiguities very much and felt I had a title I could write to.
– I am a huge fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and every derivative I can get my hands on. Even have a crush on Alice. But I feel the story has a problem: Alice doesn’t have to do anything to escape Wonderland. I don’t feel she earns her escape. In short: I think she should have had to kill the queen. Then her escape would mean something. Alice would have had to tarnish her morals in a way she would always be haunted by, in order to escape the queen’s world. I just always thought Alice should have killed the queen, and it’d been on my list of things to do as a writer, for a while, to re-tell Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Alice killing the queen. That happens here. Liss gets stuck in a Wonderland of sorts with her dad, led by a man in a white bunny suit (the white rabbit) and Candy is the queen in the sense that she is the lynchpin keeping this crazy party weekend going. Liss several times stresses to her dad that she needs to get home by Saturday morning for her Pilates class..same as Alice’s goal..she just wants to go home! Candy is keeping her there, like the queen, and in my version Liss has to kill the queen to end the party so that her dad will wake the fuck up, start being a parent, and take his freaking daughter to her Pilates class!!
– The specifics of the pool house drug weekend and the bars and the work environment and work characters are taken from real life..an exaggeration of a real party weekend from my history. Some elements are totally made up. Some elements are scenes straight out of my life.
– The one-character-per-chapter idea, I stole, like I stole the plot from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That’s probably why this book works as well as it does: it’s all stolen, either from Lewis Carrol, real life, or William Faulkner in this case. As I Lay Dying does this same one-character-per-chapter design. I always admired it. I copied it. But I took it a step further and gave each character her own formatting and punctuation. Mostly I did this not for innovation’s or creativity’s sake but to make it easier to read..the reader knows, without even looking at the title of a chapter, which character they’re reading by the differences in formatting.
– Where did Liss come from? She’s the main character — we start with her and half the chapters in the book are from her pov. I guess she’s me. Frankly, a lot of life has felt like an out-of-control party to me, a dangerous, pointless party, whether it be work or family or literal parties. She’s a kid in an adult’s world — no power (except she takes some) — and I have felt like that often. The world makes no fucking sense to me. Stuff like this really happens. People do crystal meth with their kids. Jobs reward ass-kissers with no talent while a few diehards work quietly in the background to keep everything running. Rich kids like Candy are running around the suburbs of LA lighting people’s houses on fire for fun and breaking their things and assholes like me are (were) so bored with our lives that we went along for the ride. Liss is the out-of-control, scared me who finally does what is necessary to get back to normal life and learn some fucking Pilates. But that’s the point of the ending: the whole book, Liss encounters mostly untrustworthy, dangerous adults. Now she’s at her class awaiting her Pilates teacher. The ending, “She’s here,” is supposed to suggest the question: Is this going to be a good adult or a bad adult? Should we/Liss be glad that, “She’s here?”
– The front quote, “The only way to catch tiger cubs is to go into the tiger’s den.” First of all, it’s a fortune cookie (like a real fortune cookie from the real world), and they order Chinese that night, so the [very light handed] implication is that this fortune was Liss’s fortune that night. And I guess there is no second of all..it explains itself differently to each person.
– At some point in the Candy drug monologue starting on page 191, there is a secret message written in the bold words..after a certain point, if you read just the bold words, this secret message un-weaves itself from the rest of the text. There’s no hidden message in her first drug monologue but the wildness in formatting rises and falls with her high. I wrote this book during an 11-month mostly sober period but I drank alcohol strategically when writing Candy’s scenes. I wanted to make them crazy, so I got crazy and wrote some crazy stuff. The rest of the book I wrote sober.
– The “Mondo marcio, eh?” (Rotten world, right?) phrase was written by my sister for the purpose of this book. I employed her help in this one spot where I couldn’t come up with just the right phrase. The concept of “rotten” was perfect for the sentiment I was trying to get at earlier in these notes by saying the world is crazy and people do meth with their kids. I combined this with “Ma petit poire” (My little pear) to get the phrases working together, in French and Italian, to give the idea of rotten fruit..or the juxtaposition of fresh fruit in a rotten world. I think, technically, this is one of the book’s best moments.
– Along these lines, I thought it would be really a turn if we spent this whole book thinking Liss’s dad is completely irresponsible and that’s awful and blah blah blah and then when she gets home things are worse! At least her dad doesn’t hit her!!! Her dad is irresponsible, dangerous, neglectful, but he loves her, he’s sweet to her. Liss gets home and we find out that maybe it was better she was with her dad and not her mom all this time!!! Hahaha. Mondo marcio, eh? =)
I could say a whole lot more and it’s obvious that I don’t mind talking about my book and myself. But I’m going to stop here and just deeply thank you, Joan, for making the effort to read my book and being someone who can appreciate it. It’s a gift to me — and so are you.
Your brother in words,
Matthew, William Faulkner was to be the subject of my thesis until about half a year before the thesis was due, then I switched to the Canadian feminist, Nicole Brossard. I read and admired As I Lay Dying too. Some bowl-me-over passages in there (as in The Sound and the Fury). The book was given to me along with the recommendation to dare to write my novel in the first person. So, we have that — Faulkner — in common too!
MCC is a masterpiece, no doubt about that. What you call the book’s irruptions is a large contributory factor to its success. If people are put off by it, they’re not your target audience. Having said that, I really do think your miles better than Palahniuk and he’s extremely popular, so you never know. Actually, you don’t even need to know. You just need to do your thing and not worry about “them.”
The novel emerges, only partially under the author’s control. True talk! In this uncontrollable/uncontrolled space is where genius lurks. We have to trust it. I’m attaching a few pages from the introductory chapter of my thesis where I talk about the dialogical relationship between the author and her/his work. This passage sums up how I proceed. Need not be the case for everyone.
I get what you’re saying about Alice, about the need for more agency. When I say her name, I also think of a snake’s hissing. Follow up associations: Adam & Eve, innocence, tree of knowledge. You opt for a pear instead of an apple; that’s ok :) Your Alice makes a mockery of our notions of childhood, like it’s a room you may choose to inhabit or get chained up in.
This book definitely deserves more exposure, Matthew. I admired Things Said in Dreams. MCC is..I can’t find anything that fits, that does it justice. It’s better than Faulkner, too, and yet you’ll have a hard job to get scholars talking about you cos they’re so cosy on their closed circuit. One of the reasons why I turned my back on academia. I got two of their most coveted qualifications just to show that I can, but it doesn’t mean I’m like them. I’m like you.
Hug from you sis,
BTW, I used different music for different characters to help get their different cadences.
Liss was several songs from Bizet’s Carmen.
Dad was “The Four of Us Are Dying” from Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip.
God, I wish I remembered what the others were. I have only guesses.
Winnie might have been Vangelis’ “Conquest of Paradise.”
Jacobi might have been the “This Devil’s Workday” from Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
Candy..how can I not know Candy? Ugh.
Not that it matters.
But thank you so much for talking literature with me. You’re opening up a conversation I so often only have with myself.
I have to thank you for your compliments.
I’m not one to get a big head..I think the book is the most important thing, not the person who wrote it, you know, but..
Your acknowledgement of my work feels really nice.
Thank you. I owe you in ways I will probably not be able to repay but I can at least give you my thanks.
I owe YOU, Matthew. This is the best book I have read in a long while. It gives me hope that there are people out there who do not succumb to mere surfaces!
Have to say:
from your MCC notes:
“I don’t believe in the publishing industry anymore so this book is going to be really good.”
HA! I forgot about that note!!!! =) There’s definitely a relationship!!
How did your belief in the publishing industry impact on your writing, Matthew (and why did you let it???)?
You’re asking the hard questions, Miss Simon, and I expect nothing less. I’ll be completely honest with you.
When I wrote my first book, Snowbunny, that’s exactly what I thought the cutting edge of what I could do, was. It was stylistic, and I believed “the publishing industry” would embrace it as genius and publish it. I was universally turned down with the reasoning that my book was “too experimental” — and turned down laughingly. In my view, if your book isn’t experimental, then you haven’t written anything at all. That discouraged me, as back then I had publishing and writing tangled together in my mind.
In my next couple of books (Things Said in Dreams and Camp Lake), I continued to write exactly what I wanted to write — I think that’s shown by the content of those books (they’re very me — they’re my soul). But again, no one wanted to publish them — and I knew TSID at least was worth publishing. TSID they didn’t like the ending — too realistic — they wanted a school disaster book without the disaster and I was like: this is the actual life American kids are living. This isn’t an exaggerated book, this is (with respect to the disaster) more or less real: military personnel on school grounds, children using military weapons in mass killings that they wouldn’t have had if the military hadn’t made them in the first place, etc. They definitely didn’t like the idea of the main character being a passive psychopathic killer who lets the whole thing happen — but I wasn’t about to write some Wonder Woman character who saves the world — that’s not realistic (and it’s not who most readers would be able to relate to — I wrote the protagonist as the person/position most people would be in, in such a situation..a bystander..the book is about bystander evil). Anyway. Fucking literary agents wanted to re-write my book (“We could publish it if you change the ending.”) I was like, no, that’s not how this works.
With Camp Lake, several agents said they personally liked it but they could never get a major publisher to touch a religious book. I was like: It’s not a religious book!!! Did you read it?? It’s about a bunch of murderous incestuous druggie twenty-somethings who happen to be working as counsellors at a Christian camp doing a horrible job watching over their campers — as their youth group leaders did to them when they were young — the book is about not living up to your responsibility as a caretaker of youth. And..the spiritual journey of the main character is that of a Christian moving toward being an atheist. That does not a religious book make!! It has to take place at some kind of camp — and it needs to be specific or it won’t be believable (as any liar knows). They were like, Nope, sorry, major publishers won’t touch anything with a Christian angle. And I thought to myself: bet they would touch it if it was some marginalized religion — then it would be edgy and cool. But to write a book taking place at a Christian camp — unacceptable.
So I wasn’t writing books just to make them publishable..clearly..I failed at that even as a side goal. But after my literary agent interactions for those first three books, I had lost any illusion that these people were into finding good books and publishing what they liked and believed in. It was all about the sales, the perceptions, and a certain kind of moral gatekeeping that made me lose respect for literary agents and any publishing house that would rely on them. There was a freedom, therefore, for MCC because I really didn’t think anyone but me would ever read it.
I’m not fool enough to have ever (ever, in any context, in school or since) written something for someone else — I write for myself, so I can live with myself — and baby, can I live with myself =) But there is a freedom that thought in the MCC notes gives me, above even that..at this point I’m so far off the publishing path I doubt I’ll ever get back on.
Maybe, to close the loop, I have to say:
With MCC on, I felt one less eye looking over my shoulder.
And in conclusion, from ME:
This has been some great correspondence!
This has been an amazing, intensive, inspirational exchange! And the good thing is..there’s more to come :)
For me too, Joan — amazing! I’ve felt really brought back to life in the literature department with our recent talks.
My book Things Said in Dreams is written with a female narrator. When one of my female relatives read it, just about the only thing she had to say about it was that it was ok but it didn’t sound like a woman. When my sister loaned it to one of her friends, her friend said she had to keep checking the cover to remind herself that it was written by a man because she thought it sounded so realistically female—like something that only a woman could write.
One of the elements that detractors of TSID’s female narrator point to is that in the first chapter, she punches her mother’s girlfriend as part of their conversation—a playful punch. They say that a girl would never punch someone. “Girls don’t tend to punch people.” Etc. Excuse me. Have you ever hung out with girls? They punch people, too. It’s real—it really happens, I have seen it—but that doesn’t make it realistic for every reader because they have these stupid/limited ideas of what women do. They’re stuck in their stereotypes.
One of the favorite books of our time is The Secret History, which features a male narrator extraordinarily written by a woman. I could say the sex scene in the book doesn’t sound like what I think a sex scene written by a man would sound like but that would be missing the point. Donna Tartt’s Richard Papen has sex as written and thinks of sex as written. And while it might not be realistic to some men, that doesn’t mean it’s not real. What’s in a book is real because that’s the way it is written.
Something that cracks me up about Things Said in Dreams is the story behind this series of four sentences that appear on the second page. The narrator says:
I would make an excellent kidnap victim. I’m pliable. I come with a vagina. I don’t care about my life.
Men (especially) go crazy when they read this text. They object like crazy. They call me crazy. A woman would never say this, they say. It’s completely unrealistic. Well, it may be unrealistic to them, but the funny thing about this piece of text, which is the one most cited when people tell me my narrator doesn’t sound like a woman, is that it was written by a woman.
Around the time I was writing TSID, I was having a flirtatious text exchange with a woman and we were consensually and safely playing out a kidnap/rape fantasy. That text that everyone thinks no woman would say is not only something a woman might say, or something a woman would say, it is something a woman did say. I pretty much copied her text out of our conversation and pasted it into my book.
(I later asked her if I could use it and she said I could use anything I wanted.)
Imagine how funny and how absurd this situation is to me. People tell me this piece of text betrays the believability of my female narrator—the text is unrealistic to them because they have very narrow ideas about women..and they don’t have interactions with women that are nearly as interesting as mine.
The text is documentary—literally copied and pasted from a woman’s text to me. And yet it remains unrealistic to some.
I guess I’m asking us all to consider, in a larger sense, that there is a difference between real and realistic. The world is a broad and wild place, and many things happen here which are totally real—but seem totally unrealistic to us.
I have a memory. I am in the sandbox. A lizard appears. I grab the lizard. His tail detaches. The lizard runs away. I am left holding this gray lizard tail — and the lizard had been green. He tricked me. And I learned a new thing that day — that lizards can eject their tails to avoid predators. Only later did I learn that they grow back.
I live in Pain, South Dakota. It’s a kind of tourist spot in that people stop here to see what a place called Pain looks like. And we’re on the bus line. So travelers sometimes think that Pain, South Dakota would be a nice place to stop for the night — or they plan to run out of money here and start a new life. There’s a similar place in Pennsylvania. It’s called Intercourse. When my aunt was alive she went there and sent me a picture of her and my uncle standing in front of a t-shirt shop each wearing t-shirts that said “I ❤ Intercourse.” There is no t-shirt shop in Pain.
We have a population of about 300. Mostly trailers. A main street that looks like the main street in The Last Picture Show. Have you seen that flick? — great flick. Our Main Street has a place called Betsy’s, which is a diner, which is the geographical center of Pain. If you see someone going somewhere, chances are they’re going to Betsy’s — if you see someone coming from somewhere, chances are they’re coming from there.
I drink my coffee at Betsy’s when I’m not otherwise engaged.
I sit at the bar.
I read the newspaper, which is one sheet front and back, and mostly consists of livestock and other classified advertisements. A working record player, ten dollars. A red tricycle, five dollars. I try to remember if I ever had a tricycle. I think I did. I think it was yellow.
Every morning I sit at Betsy’s.
Every morning Betsy says, “Good day to you, Mr. Simple.”
And every morning I say, “Good day to you, Mrs. Langton.”
And Betsy Langton takes a cup from under the counter, flips it over, sets it in front of me, and pours me a hot cup of coffee.
“Will you be having your usual pancakes or your usual French toast, Mr. Simple?”
“I’ll be having my usual French toast, thank you, Mrs. Langton.”
“Alrighty-do,” she says, and turns around to cook them.
Betsy’s is a one-woman operation. There’s not a lot of room in this town to hire employees. It’s a hard place to get started. That’s something the end-of-the-line tourists of Pain, South Dakota don’t have figured out before they get here. But there’s a place for everyone. I even manage to find a place for some of them with me.
But I can’t take everyone. In fact I’m quite particular about who I take to my house.
I only like women.
Of those, I only like young women.
Of those, I prefer petite women — women shorter than me, and I’m five ten.
I’ll take women of any hair color, but of course my preference runs first with redheads, then blondes, then brunettes — as most men’s preference runs.
I prefer women with small breasts — in fact I won’t take anything larger than a B cup. This very particular preference has left many women standing at the bus stop on Main Street for much longer than they expected — but I can’t help it, it’s my personal preference and my business is a business of personal preference. In fact my business wouldn’t exist at all without it.
Other than that, it’s a look in the eyes — that kind of girl that thinks Pain, South Dakota is as good as Hollywood, California — a girl who gets off that bus and has hope in her eyes, who thinks that this is where she’s going to start her new life, and somehow she’s going to fit into this tiny town and get a job as a waitress at Betsy’s and rent a room with a family who has two girls and a father and mother who treat everybody right, and in this new place she’ll be able to forget everything that happened in Pittsburgh or New York or Miami or wherever the fuck she came from.
But she won’t.
But she thinks she will.
That’s the type of hope I’m looking for.
That hope is the single most important characteristic I look for in a girl. Because that hope is what I drain from her. I take her from a girl who hopes to make a life for herself in Pain, to a girl who hopes someday to escape my crate, to a girl who just hopes not to die, to a girl who hopes there is a heaven, to a girl who hopes that death comes quickly — which it won’t.
To a girl with dead eyes.
To a girl who isn’t there.
To a girl that I control.
Do you know what a psychopomp is? It’s a deity whose job is to safely escort the dead to the afterlife. They’re not like our concept of the grim reaper — who actually does the killing. The psychopomp exists in many forms in many cultures, and her job is protector, guide — that’s what I am. The girls who come to me have chosen to die in Pain. No one realistically comes to Pain, South Dakota to thrive. They come here as a last-ditch effort — they know this is the end of the line.
Otherwise they would solve their problems wherever it is they came from — or move to another big city. No. The type of person who comes to Pain, South Dakota, Population 300 is the type of person who is tired — tired of trying — and they’re looking for a place to die.
So I don’t really kill them — they kill themselves by coming here. I just carry them from Pain, South Dakota to the land of the dead. And they thank me for it.
They thank me for giving the end of their lives meaning.
They thank me for being their guide.
They thank me for showing them what death is.
And they thank me for killing them — finally — for taking their last breath.
It’s sort of like a father-baby arrangement. Baby daughter, held in the arms of the father. I can rock you. I can drop you. I hold your body in complete control and you have no choice but to trust me. And I rock you, my baby, gently, to sleep.
I’m sure you’ll have trouble with my metaphors. You’ll think them inaccurate. You’ll think them insensitive. You’ll think I’ve deluded myself and you’ll feed yourself all that Boar’s Head-quality bullshit on a sandwich made of flies.
But here’s the thing.
People don’t actually fear death.
What they fear is being alone — dying alone.
With me, no one dies alone!
Maybe you get lost in the woods. Maybe a rattlesnake bites you. Maybe a cougar gets ya — maybe a bear. Or maybe you break your leg and you just fucking starve to death. Three days, no water, and you’re stuck screaming in the middle of nowhere hoping someone will come, hoping some stranger will save you or at least hold your hand when you pass away.
That’s not the kind of death we want — eaten by ants.
Now imagine you’re in the hospital with all your family around you. You look at all of them receding through a tunnel and you know that you mattered. Someone showed up for the big event.
Well with me you get something in between. You’re outside in nature — at gunpoint of course — and you have me (who’s become a friend) there with you squeezing the last breath out of your tiny little girl neck, crushing your petite larynx and — if you’re lucky — fracturing the precious hyoid bone which makes a distinct snap that you’ll hear clearly because that bone breaks before you die. But I’ll be there with you, you see! — and that’s what makes all the difference. You’ll have a psychopomp sitting on your shoulder, with you all the way through the curve from birth to death, I like to think — as you’re never truly born until you wake up in my chair, naked, restrained, with a television and corrugated walls and a chest neatly organized with every surgical, dental, mechanical, and gynecological tool known to the human race. On the other wall is a cabinet I keep closed while you’re alive — stuff I salvaged from an old slaughterhouse in Pain.
Yep, just another day in Pain, South Dakota — Betsy making my usual French toast and me drinking my coffee, black. I’m new enough to Pain to still be a novelty (I’ve been here four years) but long enough to be a regular. Known quantity. No one notices me too little..no one notices me too much. No one asks me too many questions — like where I got my money. Pain is the kind of place where even in this age people have kept a measure of privacy. Politeness. You leave a person to their business.
And every morning, at eight o’clock sharp, I show up at Betsy’s. Because every morning, at eight seventeen, the bus comes rambling through Pain, stops on Main Street, and the creaky door opens. Usually no one gets off. Hardly ever does anyone get on. Today the bus comes knocking up dust all over Main Street — bit of a wind rising — and it comes to a pinpoint stop where the sign specifies — in front of Tom’s Tool, our hardware store. The bus door is on the other side of the bus from where I sit, so all I can do is sip my coffee and hope, wonder, pray that some petite B cup little girl seeking her next Hollywood gets off at our stop. The bus pulls away, and I see her: red wavy hair, one suitcase, about five foot even, and I look at her jeans and imagine her vulva. Think about taking my Norelco to that motherfucker and getting to work.
The bus is still in front of Tom’s.
This is a good sign.
The longer it sits there, the greater the chance that the bus driver is taking someone’s bags from underneath the bus.
Of course it could be some grandma and grandpa come here to move in with their relatives and die.
But it could be my little girl.
I drink almost my whole cup of coffee waiting for the bus to pass.
“Black?” Betsy says.
I put the cup on the counter and don’t say a thing.
This is my church, the Pain bus stop.
I worship here, waiting for a savior, some girl to save me from my boredom, save me from killing myself with my own tools, leaving the most bizarre suicide scene in the history of the world.
Betsy fills my cup with her sour coffee which I’ve gotten used to.
I feel Pain owes me one today — something — I’ll even take an older woman or someone with C cups — I can cut her down to size.
The bus just sits there.
My imagination drives me into a frenzy such that I cannot even pick up the fresh cup of coffee.
Images in my head of what could be behind that bus have my dick hard and I have to cover it with the one sheet.
This could be the one — ’cause I’m not gonna do this forever.
I’m looking for the perfect one, you understand?
I need the girl to end all girls!
I didn’t set off to kill hundreds! I set off to kill one!
But the perfect one.
And with each new one, only the imperfections become apparent.
That’s the problem.
With each new one, I become less and less satisfied, more and more desperate for the one I can make into my perfect one.
The bus doors creak closed.
The driver is back in his seat.
And the bus pulls away, and there is someone there. And it isn’t granny and granddad moving here to die.
My mouth opens.
And what I see across the street makes me cum involuntarily, semen pumping along the side of my leg and seeping through my jeans.