Spoiler alert: I loved this
I raced through 43% in one sitting before I was forced to countenance a pee break. This is absolutely compulsive, fingers-bitten-ragged stuff. It has only been a few hours but already I miss pelting helter-skelter through 1989 Long Island in the company of pitch-perfect 19-year-old punk “Golden” Dawn Seliger.
I loved Dawn, a fascinating and believable anti-heroine in a patriarchal world that only respects anti-heroes. She is a tough, smart, disciplined and fearless feminist; a lover of depth over surface.
Mamatas is a master of illustrating character. There were several perfectly succinct descriptors that made me smile with delight, such as: “When he ran a red light, that was the revolution. When he stopped for the next one, that was also the revolution.”
We hunt with Dawn as she tries to find out who killed Bernstein (her mentor and lover) and why. For a murder mystery, the intense merging of hard-to-blend Crowleyan magick and Marxism on show in this book is a heady mix. As a lover of all things hermetic and leftie myself, I do wonder how the trad detective-novel brigade have taken to this tale. Are they able to keep up with all the qliphoth and communists?
I will admit that there is something uncomfortable about seeing your own interests and beliefs reflected. Seeing the power (and limitations) of focus and Will. Seeing something personal made political, the esoteric made exoteric, the occult revealed and it doesn't look so great out sunning its warts in the light. “Of course, some might argue that magick is a course in applied psychosis.”
As Dawn digs deeper into the mystery, we see that in this world there are no coincidences, all is synchronicity. Everything is tied together in a vast web. Every thing and every person has a role to play. To be honest, I stopped caring who killed Bernstein, I was just raptly enjoying how well everything jigsawed together.
Running through the whole tale is an infectious anger, simmering like the “black thing from the Abyss” that rises within Dawn upon occasion. With the writer as our retro-prophet, viewing the America of today through the lens of the past makes it all the more horrifyingly dystopian:
“'By the dawn of the new millennium,' Bernstein told me, 'fucking Ayn Rand will be considered a serious philosopher. Democrats will be pulling off shit that Ronny Ray-gun wets the bed dreaming of – slave labour for welfare mothers, permanent military bases all over the Middle East, torture chambers deep underground, bugs in every phone and office fax machine, computer chips in everything else, and robotic stealth bombers doing all the dirty work. And that will be the liberalism of the epoch.'”
We barrel through concepts and ideas that urge further thought, from creating identity through consumption (“But all I was doing was buying, then leaving. I was the worst sort of commodity fetishist; in trying to consume the life I wanted, all I was eating was my own slow death.”) to the logic of the middle class (“But all Long Island is fearful now. What if nuclear war isn't inevitable? How are we going to pay down the mortgages on our homes? That's the logic of the middle class.”).
Every moment, every scene, has its own devastatingly witty lines: “'Because he's a Marxist. And he has money.' 'How do you know he has money?' 'Because he's a Marxist! Poor people on Long Island don't care about Marxism. It's a rich person's hobby, like collecting vintage decoy ducks.'”
The repeated imagery of the Tower tarot card becomes burned into the mind as a sigil for capitalism. All is falling and people are duped into acting against their own best interests: “Boris Yeltsin, a capitalist alcoholic, climbs one of the tanks and gives a stirring speech. Like magick, the troops change sides. The girls go wild, hooting and pumping their fists. They're in fucking prison in capitalist America, and they still believe every stupid lie about freedom the television tells them.”
All this and a satisfying end! I finished reading this afternoon with wide eyes and a big smile, energised from the excellent story and curious about the themes, wanting to learn more. The plot always comes first, and the anger and despair drip-fed through the novel is perfectly balanced with humour and Dawn's self-sufficiency.
Is there really no alternative to the status quo? I like to think that we eager readers have been infected, become potential agents of some future revolution, lying in wait for Comrade Mamatas to trip the coded message that will activate us. And I, for one, am ready for the sequel.