Asshole Lit

One of the nice things about living in Brooklyn is that there's a culture of reading here. I don't mean a snobby, exclusive culture; I mean people read here, so much so that there's a sidewalk trade in used books. So much so that people occasionally just leave a pile or box of books on the stoop when they move, because as my strong-backed college friends can tell you, books are a pain in the ass to hump.

Some street folk actually have a trade in third-hand texts, which they'll spread out on the sidewalk or on a sideways-turned cart.

Anyway, I was delighted to find a copy of A.L. Kennedy's Paradise on a stoop a couple of weeks ago (Free book! Yay!). Kennedy is a Scottish writer, and the Scots can do a couple of things remarkably well. Two of these are drink and write. Paradise is a portrait of someone who does both, and although it falls into the category of drunk lit, best exemplified by Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes (see also Ironweed), both of those can also be qualified as asshole lit.

Ex and Kennedy's characters are assholes, and not the lovable kind. They are of the destructive kind, and you're stuck with them because they're the protagonists. David Gates has done this type of thing too. The skill here is not in making these character lovable, but in painting the portrait without flinching. Most of us want to be loved, and it takes some steel to create characters and art that repulses, without doing so just to shock. These aren't out-and-out gross-out contests, competing for the most public vomiting or horrible treatment of would-be friends. They also aren't assholes of the purposeful contrarian sort. They're pictures of what can happen when the rebellion goes too far; sure, making a beast of yourself gets rid of the pain of being human, but then you're a beast, too.

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