October 2013

Molly O'Brien


The Suiciders by Travis Jeppesen

Travis Jeppesen's first novel, Victims, was about a UFO cult in the model of Heaven's Gate. His play Daddy involved a cult member character, too. If we all write more or less one story in our lives (as the old chestnut goes), writing about cults is not a bad story to choose: cults rely on the interplay between distinct personalities; their daily concerns are petty, but their overarching mission is always something cosmic and unfathomable like immortality or intergalactic war, and they need a charismatic leader to survive. I can imagine that if one joins a cult, it is at least partially because the cult's story has the power of seduction. The narrative wins you over, and you desire to be a part of it. You join the cult and let the cult's story take you along.

In The Suiciders, the eponymous characters are not a cult, though they do operate on the same principles. They live isolated in an abandoned house, a "Gothic approximation of a dump." They speak a strange, coded language that would confuse and shock outsiders. They exist apart from reality, and they do things that, realistically, cannot be done. Zach, Lukas, Adam, Matthew, Peter, Taylor, and Arnold live together in what must be truly squalid digs (they're constantly shitting, vomiting, and ejaculating in their living quarters), traveling now and then to "the other america," picking up hitchhiking whores along the way, then murdering whichever character's parents need to be murdered that day.

The key difference between a normal cult and The Suicider's group is that The Suiciders all have at least a marginal sense of agency. Zach, the ringleader, dictates the general mood of the group, but the characters always decide what they want to do, and then they do it -- dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Take Zach's defying of his own sexual orientation in order to grasp "freedom":

Zach's shitter had never been fucked before. He had no desire to be gay. As an experiment, he went to the local gay bathhouse, found the man with the biggest dick there, and got him to stick it up him. He ran home, laughing all the way. Now he's done everything sexually that he never wanted. So he can finally be free. Freedom is a delusion.

At first it seems like Jeppesen's use of unorthodox, disturbing, sexual, scatological, loaded, prejudiced language is meant to be a sick literary joke. After all, there are only so many times you can write rape or abortion or lick my magnificent buttcrack or exploded brains or I want all the ugly children of america to take turns fucking me backwards before it starts to sound like an exercise in the diminishing returns of too much shock and awe. This language defines the novel: it separates the Suiciders from their ostensibly normal neighbors and fellow citizens by placing them apart in a world where there is no difference between sex and rape, where bodily fluids are meant to be expelled freely, where all women are bitches and all men are faggots and all people are motherfuckers. This language begins as disturbing, slowly becomes rote, lulls the reader into a profane coma, and then ends up unexpectedly dense and poetic. Jeppesen has a way of making disgusting imagery sound erudite, if not downright elegant. It is as lyrical as you could imagine curse words could become.

The onely ones, the banquet bitch. Whore needs a break from this episode. Adam's throat spider inside her. Adam keeps calling out, wanting to be led. Even further other americas will emerge from this one. Wet shadow leaves its stain across the ceiling. Bloodless arms collaborate in congealing.

Everything The Suiciders accomplish in the novel appears to happen in their minds, and at times it is unclear who the first-person narrator is. Zach might take the mic for a second, followed by Arnold, and then an unnamed "I" who sometimes talks to an unnamed "you." The boys state their aim in the first page of the novel: "We invented ourselves in here... the only thing we had in common was this desire to be teens for the rest of our circumstance." The Suiciders could be read as an extreme version of prolonged adolescence. The things the boys do (lose an eyeball, stick their dicks in the snow, ask their sex partners to sing "Billie Jean" during coitus) add up not to a story, but to a state of being: immature, sex-obsessed, violent, destructive, and yet also wildly inventive. These boys watch a porn movie in which their doppelgangers gang-rape animals, then mirthfully call it a doppelganger-banger.

In this vein, treating the novel as a sort of superlong adolescent soliloquy, what does it mean when one of the boys uses the word nigger or cunt? Are they racist and sexist, or are they using the words as an ignorant teenage boy would use it: to shock, to disturb, to present oneself as edgy and careless? It isn't clear here, and Jeppesen doesn't appear to want to make conclusions. After all, these boys would rather self-immolate than receive consequences for the havoc they wreak. They are a cult in a moral vacuum, which is a unique thing indeed.

Arguments against violent, sexual, gory movies tend toward warning viewers that the violence and sex and gore will dull them, numb them, or indoctrinate them to be violent and sexual and gory themselves. The Suiciders has the opposite psychological effect: there is violence and sex and plenty of blood spilled, but rather than totally numb the reader, the dark stuff enervates the brain, agitates and offends the reader, and then placates and pleases with those beautiful, ugly turns of phrase. The Suiciders may destroy eveything they touch, but the destruction is creative.

The Suiciders by Travis Jeppesen
ISBN: 978-1584351252
224 pages