Review: Nobody Special, The Death of Johnny Salinger
Fiction | Beat Poetry & Prose
5 ¼” x 8” perfect-bound trade paperback
A Raven Desk Tome
Review originally published on 1/19/15
Here is an ambitious premise: Trap a suicidal poet in his bedroom, give him an ‘exit’ journal, charge him with trying to prove that everything is special and everything has meaning (even though he hungers to quit this same everything), and then don’t let him stop until he writes his perfect final word. For the most part, Jack Deadmen’s 2012 novel, Nobody Special: The Death of Johnny Salinger, accomplishes all of its ambitions.
The tone is quickly set up by a 1993 New Year’s Eve journal written by a rich and famous poet (Rock Star?) named Johnny Salinger. We learn Johnny has holed himself up in the bedroom of his party mansion he dubs “Hell House.” From here, he vows to lay out all the evidence of why he is going to kill himself unless anyone will knock on the door and come to save him. The next two hundred or so pages (an estimate since there are no page numbers) are written like the manic captain’s log from a ship the captain, himself, is intentionally going to destroy.
Johnny is a wonderful combination of a grown Holden Caulfield, Kerouac, Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Ginsberg, and Kurt Cobain. He is these characters at their end, after the drive and passion is exhausted, after the bar of excess can’t be raised, when nothing is left to do but reflect on what has been done, when the heroes (anti?) just want to lay their heads down and experience something quiet. The prose at times is brilliant:
Trust me, it’s quite entertaining to watch a fake narcotics raid go down with real cops bursting into the place like a pack of mutant Nazi stormtroopers on Meth going all zip-zap and clamping their jaws down on a bunch of party-rookies who’re acting like a barrel of rubbernecking monkeys and running into walls, with the entertainment rising when the badges start “arresting” the ones who can’t wrap their heads around the joke until they’re laying in the trunk of a cop car and trying to make sense of the flashlight that’s duct-taped to their hands and shining into the face of a very convincing-looking mannequin named Bloated Beulah who’s been made up to look like a dead hooker. It’s relatively harmless, never gets dull, and it’s usually how the night ends, if it ever ends at all.
As he recalls life and why he wants to end it, he relates a series of events and relationships, and he often dives into long David-Foster-Wallace-like page-long paragraphs with A.D.D. depressive rants that somehow simultaneously depict life meaning too much and not meaning anything at all. The events of Salinger’s life are the stronger part of the story, and the long philosophical, woe is me, metaphor-switching sections can be hard to read. I believe the author knows this. It’s the way the book seems meant to be read, with some discomfort and impatience for the suicidal drive. At one point he tells us to read it out loud. I believe we are meant not only to do this but to reply to it. To argue with it. When a suicidal man says his lust for life is just too strong to bear, we are supposed to get mad. We are supposed to call, “BULLSHIT! IF YOU REALLY HAD A LUST FOR LIFE, YOU WOULD CHERISH YOUR TIME AND YOU WOULD BEG FOR MORE!!!!!!”
There is a strong meta aspect to the design of this novel. I don’t think any of it is accidental: The lack of page numbers, the author’s name likely having a commonality to a plot point of the main character’s name, the publish date of the book also being New Year’s Eve. They are all there for an almost interactive experience. The narrator assigns himself many different ‘egos’ including The Innocent Bystander, The Reflection, The Camera, the Self, and the Ghost. Along with this, he assigns the reader one, too: The Voyeur. He often apologizes to the Voyeur for the very things I was feeling about the book at times. It makes his character come even more to life when he can come off of the pages and agree with you: “Dear Voyeur, are you becoming as exhausted as I have been? Do not give up on me until I am finished.”
There are times this meta level takes on the form of critic itself, and the book seems to write its own review:
And I most definitely do not believe myself to be an incarnation of Raoul Duke, Dr. Gonzo, nor any of the others in this myriad of broken idols whom I have lost pieces of my soul to because I tried so goddamned hard to be like them, without success. But fuck me runnin’ for not realizing until now that I could have been more like them had I not tried so hard to be them.
Is this not also seen in the book where the parts of his story and his real living are more palatable than the parts about his broken idol descent?
My bedroom door remains mute, giving me no indication as to whether or not it will remain unopened. You would think this little detail would be mind-bogglingly suspenseful to me wouldn’t you? Me too. But it’s not. The novelty has passed.
These bits are incredibly self-aware. They are also a fair critique of the book, as well, and yet he pulls it all out in the end. The novelty doesn’t completely pass.
There was a surprising elation as I started to get to the end pages, which represented the potential end of a man’s life. What is wrong with me? Am I happy a man is about to die? Should I be? Do I want him to pull out of it and not do it? Is it really better to burn out than to fade away, and which of those would a two-hundred page suicide note qualify as? I was excited to get to these end pages to see how The Voyeur would feel about what would happen to Johnny Salinger. I believe Jack Deadmen was just as excited to get to that final page and in the spirit of life’s disappointment that the book covered and longed for us all to escape: just make sure you get to the final word.