July 2005

Beth Dugan

fiction

The Conviction and Subsequent Life of Savior Neck by Christian TeBordo

It’s been a long time since I read a book that made me feel like I was on drugs. Perhaps not since I secretly read William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch under the covers with a flashlight in high school. That experience was awakening if uncomfortable. Unfortunately, The Conviction and Subsequent Life of Savior Neck by Christian TeBordo is an acid trip through ugliness and nothing more. The titular Savior Neck, as a boy, woke up dead one day yet lives on in his wretched run-down hometown of Discord, N.Y. His death reeks of gasoline and withered flowers and, disappointingly, is just like his life, but less interesting. The book plays hopscotch between hellish fantasy and fetid reality with echoes of the esteemed George Saunders’s loose play with reality, but never reaching even the shadow that Saunders casts.

Discord is a factory ghost town full of old men who belly up to the bar, The 13th Step, everyday. The other characters who inhabit this bleak world include a reporter/TV host Penny Dreadful, the scummy lawyer Harold Esquire, Esq., the town speed freak/hero Richie Repetition, and two cops, both named Officer Longarm. These characters help shuffle the story along with appearances by a very strong cat with gingivitis, and a large-footed woman named Grace X. Machina, who changes the course of everyone’s lives.

The plot of the book is slippery and elusive. Savior Neck is alive, then dead for most of his “life,” then when he is wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to death (but not killed), he lives again--but the kind of life you wouldn’t wish on your enemies. There are also the deaths of the speed freak Richie Repetition and a gasoline-sniffing transient named Thomas Didymus to deal with. There is a hit that went wrong, a stolen squad car, missing guns, several explosions, lots of drinking and even more vomit. The cops bumble comically trying to solve the wrong crimes. Savior Neck stumbles around lost and clueless trying to live his death or his life without any idea what he is doing. Everything is a pun or a dark double-entendre, and in the end it is unclear what happened and what didn’t.

The first few pages of the book are kind of exciting: A boy wakes up dead. He goes to school and they send him to the nurse because he is dead. When she asks how he is feeling, he answers, “I awoke to the smell of withered flowers doused in gasoline. My pulse is in my bed, my reflexes are in the carpet, my hearing is in the doorway. In short, I am feeling dead.” They send him home and the next time we see Savior Neck, he is an old man. Maybe nothing happened to him in those years, but he was a normal little boy in the first few pages and I was interested to see what it would be like to be dead when you are growing up. Skipping right to the end, so to speak, was like skipping all the good parts. Perhaps the story that TeBordo was telling didn’t exist in those years, but I am not convinced it existed in the part he chose to tell.

The Conviction and Subsequent Life of Savior Neck by Christian TeBordo
Spuyten Duyvil
ISBN: 0972066284
208 pages