HOT. SUPPLE. SMOOTH. RELENTLESS. DANTESQUE. SYMPATHETIC.
A REVIEW OF JACK REMICK’S THE DEIFICATION, COFFEETOWN PRESS, 2012.
By robert j. ray (The Weekend Novelist; Seattle WA, USA)
This is a tough book to review.
Tough to review because the language is pure poetry–you want to copy down full descriptions packed with images; you want to slap the dialogue onto your reviewer’s page; you want to avoid writing about the book as a thing, a product in the marketplace, so you can quote the whole book, all 345 pages, and allow the language to tell the story.
This is a tough book to review because it looks like a linear journey–from the Coachella Valley to San Francisco, from San Francisco north to the Buzzard Cult, from the Buzzard Cult east to Lowell, Massachusetts and a ritual unearthing of Kerouac’s grave, from Lowell west again, back to the Valley, where the protagonist, Eddie Iturbi, seventeen years old and dying to become a poet, confronts the characters from his Valley Boy past–then back to the city for a Dantesque journey through poet’s hell.
The linear story is there, but you’ll be reading along when the fictional floor opens up, like a trapdoor yawning, and you drop down a layer or maybe two, down into the mind of the writer, who handles this descending moment with the control of a word-master, not a word out of place, not one sentence wasted.
The book is THE DEIFICATION, Jack Remick’s second novel from Seattle’s Coffeetown Press (the first novel was BLOOD, a story about a man in prison, published in 2011). Remick’s second novel is big book, a coming of age story in the tradition of the European Bildungsroman, but a richer experience because there is no time for gloom, because you’ll like Eddie Iturbi, whose innocence gets jostled, but darkened, by his journey into discipline. As trouble finds Eddie, you’ll worry about him. Will he last? Will he find the code? What happened to his eye?
One of my favorite sections is Eddie’s time in the Buzzard Cult, where Remick combines four entities–a Zen Monastery, a Hippie Commune, an EST retreat (taking a good ironic swipe at founder Werner Erhard), and a US Navy Training Center for SEALs. Sent to the Buzzard Cult by his mentor, Leo Franchetti, Eddie meets Alma, his control–“I’m your control.” she says. “You are the postulant. You are mine to shape and to mold.” Under Alma, Eddie sits Zazen, no talking, no thinking, no food, no water, sit and breathe, wait for Alma. Eddie falls in love, Alma gives him pain. And there is always the question: Ready to quit, Loser?
THE DEIFICATION is a book of codes where the protagonist searches for the code that unlocks a manuscript dictated to Eddie by Jack Kerouac that night in Lowell when Eddie gets buried alive in Kerouac’s grave. Taking dictation is the goal of every writer. It’s grabbing the divine Word coming from an unseen, unknowable source. What writer does not want to sit there in a trance and input the words that will bring fame. When Eddie falls into the gave, Kerouac dictates a poem he never got to write–ODES TO A G-STRING GODDESS–he dictates it to Eddie, who has struggled through the Buzzard Cult discipline without quitting. But the ODES are written in code, and to find the key that breaks the code Eddie takes a journey through Writer’s Hell–broken glass, a tall fence, rats that eat your feet off–led by a crazy poet, Francois Villon, dead for 500 years and still wearing the rope they hanged him with because, among other things, he was a poet. Remick never fails to roll in humor. As they board the Poet’s Trolley, Eddie says:
“There’s no conductor.”
“And no engineer!” Villon shouted. “This is free verse, baby.”
And then Remick’s prose swings into action: “The trolley rocked side to side. The floor of the trolley was waxed and slippery. The machine slammed into a turn, and Eddie spun onto a brass knob that ripped his side open, and he spouted blood like a harpooned whale.
The trolley squealed to–”
See what I mean? The language, the timing, the humor, the strong verbs, the concrete nouns, the world beneath the world–all wrapped up in one novel called THE DEIFICATION, by Jack Remick, a writer who achieved in this book what every writer yearns for: to open up and take dictation.
End on this note: You gotta read this book!
Robert J. Ray
The Weekend Novelist