Witch Piss by Sam Pink
Most great novels about places tend to be homages to idiosyncratic cities and the things that make them unique. However, these narratives often focus on the positive elements of the place or how a main character interacts with his or her surroundings and fail to delve deep into the richness of the stories happening in the dirty alleys and gutters of the big metropolises. Sam Pink's Witch Piss is the antithesis of these novels; a story about life on society's lowest rung in the streets of Chicago, "the land of fine sun and even finer grape-flavored cigars."
Pink has built a large cult following by consistently delivering distinctive novels that break away from traditional storytelling, and Witch Piss is no different. The narrative is made up of encounters, conversations, and stories told by a plethora of characters from Chicago's streets. By eschewing a traditional plot and letting the voices of the characters tell their own tales, the author created an immersive novel built on oral tradition and street slang. When mixed with a touch of social critique and a good dose of humor, Witch Piss becomes one of Pink's most bizarre and daring offerings so far.
The narrator is an unnamed young man who spends much of his time hanging out with winos, homeless people, and junkies. With some, he is only somewhat acquainted, but with others he has managed to establish a friendship built around telling jokes and sharing stories, joints, and forty-ounce beers. These relationships afford the man an unfiltered look at life on the streets, and what he sees, learns, and hears reinforces some stereotypes and shatters others.
Chicago has always been a sine qua non element of Pink's work, but the city never took center stage as much as it does here. The city is the backdrop for all the action, but its streets, weather, and even public transportation transcend being the stage and become crucial elements that shape the characters' lives. Here, Chicago is an omnipresent macrocosm that feeds off its inhabitants and merges with them to create a strange, humorous, fast-paced, and somewhat violent state of mind:
75% of conversations in Chicago seemed to involve a whooped ass.
Or an ass that should've been whooped.
An ass that narrowly avoided its whooping.
An ass that wouldn't escape its whooping.
A theoretical ass whooping.
The territory Pink decided to explore with this narrative is dangerous because it's where poverty, addiction, mental disorders, and race meet. Despite all the possible problems that could have arisen from fictionalizing a marginalized population, Pink's honesty helped him steer clear of all possible pitfalls. The writing emulates Chicago street lingo with its collection of cut-up words and each character has his or her own set of strange go-to phrases, but this never done in a mocking way and, what's more surprising, never becomes boring because each of the narrator's friends or acquaintances brings something unique and new to the text. For example, Spider Man, who lives with his wheelchair-bound and not-quite-there girlfriend, Janet, is obsessed with superheroes, and his conversations tend to lean that way:
"Oh, I got heroes, gah be kiddin me." He held one wrist with the other hand and said, "Ice Man." He was staring straight forward dramatically. He pointed his hand forward, still holding it by the wrist. "Shing shing. Gotta be kiddin me. Got ice powers. Shing shing. Boosh."
He did really good sound effects.
Over 75% of what he was saying was just sound effects.
The beauty of Witch Piss comes from the way Pink balanced hilarity and sadness while retaining that odd voice that has made him a household name for readers who enjoy uncanny and unpretentious prose. The writing here is simple, but it's also immersive and fun. And, as always, the author displays a flair for turning simple sentence into tiny works of art.
Face and I passed backyards and gangways and dumpsters, piles of garbage, a garage with a large gang tag that'd been x'd out and inverted in red.
A pit bull rushed up to the gate of a chainlink fence, barking at us.
It made sideways eye contact with me, going "Oorv, oorv." Part of me wanted to grab it by the head and kiss it right on the lips and let it eat my face off.
The other part of me wanted the exact same thing.
The characters in Witch Piss have reasons to be upset, but their circumstances are not enough to kill their joy, and their banter, which moves between wittiness and insanity, helps the narrative move forward at a very enjoyable pace. Considering the fact that he shuns historical context, straightforward plots, and most classic storytelling techniques, it's astounding to see how, through weirdness, brutal honesty, and sheer originality, this novel helps cement Pink as one of Chicago's most sincere and interesting chroniclers.
Witch Piss by Sam Pink
Lazy Fascist Press