about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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King of Joy
A Review of King of Joy
by Richard Chiem

Spencer Dew

“I was legally dead for a full minute once,” says a character here—stoned, her uniform top unbuttoned, eating a ripe banana in a particularly distracting way. Later, blood will blossom in dark clouds within water, and the internal organs of another character will be shaken free as his corpse is battered by a bull hippopotamus. Stitching these scenes together are scenes involving violent sex, porn, violent porn, more drugs, a dog plagued by nightmares, a man with a neck tattoo of the word “tattoo.” There’s champagne in the shower, Klonopin and Hot Pockets, movie screens and computer screens and projection screens on the ceiling of a nightclub showing “images of big ocean waves in the nighttime . . . above all the sweaty bodies.” “Lots of water imagery and no water,” thinks our hero, Corvus. Corvus is a survivor of all manner of life’s assaults, from the all-too-real to the surreal (porn to hippos, as the kids say) and back again. When she dances, people notice. When she’s down, don’t count her out. At the novel’s start, she’s described as being the sort who, kicked in the teeth, opts “to smile, mouth full of blood.” And we see her get kicked plenty here, from sex work (“entering a room and leaving a room, pounding heartbeats on a schedule . . . muscle memory . . . Her body surprises her, her mind continues to drift endlessly, and by each day’s end she can hardly describe the way she feels. It is quite possible she feels nothing.”) to facing the deaths of others, by various means. Yet, indeed, the overwhelming sense here—in this novel that reeks of “weed and coconut sunscreen,” that sounds of bodies slapping against bodies, pills jiggling in pillboxes, and hippos restless in their paddock—is of a woman who survives by being numb, who lives in a reality that, both in its bacchanalian spectacle and dull minutia (hippos to porn, or the other way around) is like a drug trip come to life, a drug trip stumbled through while high. The book itself can be a bit numbing, addictively so, generating a real sense of connection to Corvus not for what she suffers but for just how little she feels, gliding over the surface of things, tingling vaguely with “the thrill of no special occasion.”

Official Richard Chiem Web Site
Official Soft Skull Press Web Site

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