Review: Playing Chicken With Thanatos by Díre McCain (Apophenia Books)

I had the great and rare privilege of reading a manuscript version of this book some time ahead of its final draft and subsequent publication. Then, it had a different working title and a number of changes would follow which made tracing some of the identities of the real-life characters who populate the book rather more difficult. But even in its not-quite complete stage, I was struck by a number of things, not least of all the vibrancy of the narrative, the immediacy of it all, how relatable and accessible the narrator was.

Now, I’ve known the author – virtually, at least, and over Skype – for a number of years: under the auspices of co-founders Díre McCain and D M Mitchell, Paraphilia Magazine generously published my work from the very first issue at a time when no-one else would (a situation that continues, if the truth be known) and have been immensely supportive through the years, long before I clambered aboard as a contributing editor. Díre also graced the Clinical, Brutal anthology I edited for Clinicality Press in 2010 with a piece that was stunning, not to mention truly brutal. So I had an inkling of her abilities as a writer, and indeed of her turbulent formative years. But none of this could have really prepared me for her autobiographical novel.

It’s everything you want from a novel: the narrator drags you along on the journey: at times you sympathise, at others, not so much, but that’s how it is with friends, you take the rough with the smooth. It’s the raw honesty of Díre’s narrative, delivered in a strong, individual voice, that’s so compelling and so human that means you forgive, and you worry about what will happen, you’re there in the moment.

It’s also the fact that however bad things get, however badly she’s treated and however low she sinks, she never plays ‘the victim’, and herein lies the book’s greatest strength: she just tells it straight, and never uses sensationalism to detail sensational events. In this way, Playing Chicken With Thanatos doesn’t sit with the contemporary vogue for memoir, but instead belongs to a strain of classic American autobiographical reportage: Bukowski’s Post Office springs to mind; Jack Black’s You Can’t Win; Burroughs’ Junky, and from over the pond, Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho and Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change. What all these books share is an episodic approach to storytelling and a lack of pretence.

There are moments that are utterly terrifying, and the happy-go-lucky easy rollin’ of teen experimentation with whatever substances are on offer takes a turn into extremely dark territories, and the later sections of the book are indeed harrowing. But it’s by no means a depressing book: even through the bleakest sections, the way the words simply flow is a joy, and the author’s sharp intellect and extensive vocabulary set Playing Chicken With Thanatos leagues apart from any drug-addled confessional. And, despite placing a clear distance between her past and present, at no point does Playing Chicken With Thanatos become a vehicle for anti-drug rhetoric, high moralisation or preaching: the fact Díre doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence – or mar the narrative – with such interjections is another aspect of what makes this book such a great read.

It’s from a purely objective mindset that I say that this book is special, bursting with life and emotional resonance and that for these reasons I give it my strongest recommendations. So do as the preface bids: ‘fasten your fucking seatbelt and hold the fuck on….’

 

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Link: http://www.paraphiliamagazine.com/diremccain/playing-chicken-with-thanatos/

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

It’s good to talk…

With a new book forthcoming, a little bit of promotion goes a long way. Stuart, who runs Clinicality Press, suggested we have a chat about From Destinations Set. With the prospect of a couple of free drinks and some free promotional coverage, I wasn’t going to turn the offer down.

The resulting piece, which covers the writing process and the aims of the book, as well as a whole heap of other literary topics and writers who have inspired and influenced Destinations, is an edited, expanded and manipulated historical record of the event. Don’t believe everything you read here.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.

Order! Order! Book Retailer Defies Logic and Sends OCD Shoppers to the Edge

I’ll admit that I’m prone to extreme pedantry and display many behaviours that are classic traits of the obsessive, the anally retentive. To be honest, I’m fine with that. I have a lot of books, records and CDs, and so storing them in alphabetical order by author or artist makes sense if I want to avoid having to spend hours rooting through haphazard piles of stuff. That I store items in order of publication or release date for those authors or artists I have multiple items by is also helpful, if not quite as essential, and that all of my records are stored with the A-side facing the front and records and CDs are kept with the labels the right way up is simply a preference. In a world where have very little control over anything, it’s comforting to maintain a sense of order in those aspects of my life where it actually benefits me. I choose the alphabetical by author / artist system because it’s ‘the standard’. Libraries, book stores, record stores… the simple fact id that it makes sense and is based on an indisputable logic.

Yesterday, for something to do and because, since they became a ‘media’ store rather than a music store (CDs now occupy less space than DVDs and are generally receive equal billing to console games), HMV have been known to stock some reasonable cult fiction at generously discounted prices. Burroughs, Palahniuk, Bukowski, Plath; all names I spotted amidst the predictable selection of music-related books, celebrity biographies and populist cack, and all with a decent whack off the RRP.

What perplexed me, however, was the arrangement of said books on the shelves. Stephen King books were interspersed throughout the display, which was some five shelves high and eight to ten feet wide. Burroughs’ The Place of Dead Roads was somewhere in the middle, while Kurt Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect was on the top shelf on the far left. What the fuck?

It actually took me a little while to realise that the books were arranged alphabetically by title. Apart from biographies, which were placed by order of the surname of their subject. And apart from books about a band, in which case the book’s placing was dictated by the name of the band. And apart from Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life So Far, which appeared to be amongst the Cs.

On reflection, I suppose that’s probably right.

Of course, this begs the question, why aren’t the CDs arranged using the same system?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk