I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death by Heiko Julien
Review by Kristen Felicetti
When I read Heiko Julien's book in public, I noticed people staring at it. People craned their necks to get a longer look, those across the train re-directed their gaze to laser in on I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death. It's the striking cover, which practically glowed in my hands, an electric jellyfish of a book. When I saw them looking, I wanted to tell them to judge this book by its cover, because what's inside is as original, surprising, and futuristically transcendent as they might have assumed from its exterior.
Much of I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death first appeared in different forms: e-books, tweets, stories published on Thought Catalog or as Facebook statuses, and now they are all together in one book, a physical form that can be sold in stores and makes the reading of it yet another experience. It moves forward in sections, the earliest dating from May 2012 and the last being November 15, 2013, the date of the book's publication.
Even though all the pieces span only a little over a year, from beginning to end, Heiko Julien's style morphs and alters in slight ways. He begins with the e-books, which are broken down into one page chapters, which are broken down into one-liners that sometimes feel related, but often feel like isolated thoughts, or tweets. He transitions in the middle of the book to more connected stories, such as a story imagining what it would be like to kill yourself and get reincarnated as the neighbor's dog, a story about getting high on cough syrup at the mall, and a story about visiting a girl he met on the internet and her ex-boyfriend complimenting him on the story about getting high on cough syrup at the mall. In the last section, we return to shorter forms, but not in the same way as the beginning of the book. The one-liners are now part of more connected short prose, and other pieces resemble traditional poems. It's not unlike how a person can evolve in over a year, still the same person, but slightly altered, changing in small ways that aren't always easy or consistent.
Heiko's voice throughout is both uniquely his own and ungraspable, always slipping away, just when you thought you had him. He can shift tones that make you feel one way and then another, sometimes only in two lines. The writing alternates from witty one-liners, to direct questioning of the reader, to philosophical declarations, to personal and emotional reflections. The language itself sounds like a mash-up of words you've heard from popular culture, on the street, from your friends, from the Internet, from your own noisy and banal inner monologue that you haven't been sharing with anyone. The result is many quotable lines, which evoke odd and exciting imagery ("Slap my body with pool noodles until I am bruised and puffy... Hurl jumbo shrimp at my smoldering corpse"), resemble the text equivalent of a computer glitch ("My wife left me for a finely crafted grilled vegetable artisan sandwich," "i want to ball hard in different aspect ratios") or feel like the uncanny articulation of familiar thoughts you may have had yourself, but never fully verbalized before ("It is strange to think that your parents are just other people. Becoming aware of this fact feels the way saying a word over and over until you realize it is just noise feels."). Even when Heiko is making sarcastic one-liners, or off-the-cuff jokes, he never hides behind irony's more cowardly aspects -- being too cool to care or be sincere. Every line is sincere and every line is going hard, to the point of exhaustion. Heiko is aggressively exploring and examining the path of his mind, and experimenting with the experience and feelings of living and being.
The beginning of I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death has Heiko Julien proclaiming that he is going to tell you a story about a man, or about several men and women, or about himself. He prefaces it by saying he has no way of knowing whether it will be engaging to you, precisely because he has no idea what is going on in your head, or you in his. A lot of writing tries to bridge that existential feeling of not knowing what others are thinking or feeling, but I wonder if it can ever really be done. While writing can, on a sentence-to-sentence level, articulate a certain feeling or thought that accurately captures a particular experience, most of the time what is going on in someone's head is more multidimensional. A person's mind is not just sentences followed by sentences. There are fragments and multi-sentences going on at the same time, as well as visuals and sounds and feelings that are more visceral than verbal. Heiko Julien understands this and is trying to fill his writing with all these dimensions. This is evoked through visuals, like the image macros that appear in parts of the book, but also in the writing itself, which almost has a visual aesthetic, one that relates to net art and the hyper-colored gradient image on the book's cover. His prose feels "internetty," like the result of a life interacting with technology, or as Mark Leyner states in his blurb, "like the 21st century." Either way, this is writing to be excited about, from a writer who is trying to work out what is going on in his head and share the way he experiences present reality in all its possibilities. I would not claim to know Heiko Julien's meaning of his book's title, but for me, the thing that would make me claim, "I am ready to die a violent death," to write it, say it, yell it, would be fulfilling a promise of living an intense life.
I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death by Heiko Julien
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