Lurid & Cuteby Adam Thirlwell
A dreamy and adrenaline-fueled new novel from a two-time Granta Best Young Novelist
Lurid & Cute is a kind of machine for the reader's corruption. It opens with all the things we've come to expect of Adam Thirlwell-"the playfulness of language, the way the mandarin wit, line by line, consorts with grisly or louche material,/i>/i>/b>/b>/i>
A dreamy and adrenaline-fueled new novel from a two-time Granta Best Young Novelist
Lurid & Cute is a kind of machine for the reader's corruption. It opens with all the things we've come to expect of Adam Thirlwell-"the playfulness of language, the way the mandarin wit, line by line, consorts with grisly or louche material," as Jeffrey Eugenides has said-when the narrator wakes confused in a seedy hotel room. He has had the good education, and also the good job. Together with his wife and dog, he lives at home with his parents. But then the lurid overtakes him-a chain of events that feels to those inside it narcotic and neurotic, like one long and terrible descent: complete with lies, deceit, and chicanery, and including, in escalating order, one orgy, one brothel, and a series of firearms disputes.
Lurid & Cute balances the complexity of an interior world-our hero's apparently innocent obsessions with food, old movies, and all the gaudy, shoddy building blocks of pop culture-with a picaresque plot delivered with expert, insidious pacing. For very possibly this is the story of a woebegone and global generation. And our hero, the sweetest narrator in world literature, also may well be the most fearsome.
It's the most sophisticated and gruesome novel from an author celebrated for his precocious talents, and it will leave you feeling like you've been on one hell of a bender.
The nameless narrator of the latest from Thirlwell (The Escape) is a bit of a worrywart, constantly fretting over each decision laid before him. So when he wakes one morning next to a woman—who is not his wife, Candy—in a shabby hotel room, he begins a long, anxiety-driven journey down the road to disaster. The woman, Romy, is one of his closest friends and has overdosed on ketamine—which he provided; he’s no saint, after all—and it’s up to Thirlwell’s protagonist to save her. Far removed from his normal life—living at home with his parents and wife in upper-middle-class comfort—our hero soon finds himself entangled in orgies, robberies, brothels, gunfights, and heavy narcotics. As he pines for romance with both Candy and Romy, his friend Hiro convinces him to push the boundaries of safety, and before long, the consequences rear their ugly heads when a pair of armed, masked strangers turns up at his front door demanding cash. Thirlwell’s narration is interesting, with occasionally delightful flourishes, yet the inner monologues (full of ridiculous similes) eventually wear thin and often prevent anything from actually occurring for long stretches (think of Bernhard’s The Loser, but less enchanting). And unlike Johnson’s Jesus’ Son or Welsh’s Trainspotting, these adventures feel manufactured. Agent: Peter Straus, Rogers, Coleridge, & White. (Apr.)
“Isn't that what we're looking for in the fiction we read . . . the world rarified by art, yet kept down to earth. This is what I feel is happening in Thirlwell's new fiction, and I can't wait to read more.” Jeffrey Eugenides
“A wittily observant young author . . . Audacious.” Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books
“A witty, irreverent, and elegiac new novel.” The New York Times Book Review on The Escape
“A novel where the humor is melancholic, the melancholy mischievous, and the talent startling.” Milan Kundera on The Escape
“A prodigy . . . Thirlwell's book shoves its delirious way around and through four centuries of great novelists, tumbles them down one trapdoor and hauls them out of another; it provokes as much as evokes . . . A treasure.” The New York Times on The Delighted States
“Raises questions that are vital to novelists and their readers; it will be hard for anyone with an interest in the subject to keep from defiling the margins with notes.” The Wall Street Journals on The Delighted States
A nameless first-person narrator, a young man, awakens in a hotel room after a night of drug-taking and sex with Romy, a girl he knows, and discovers that she is bleeding and unconscious. After much dithering, he takes her to a hospital, then returns home to his beautiful wife, Candy. They live with his well-to-do parents in a suburb somewhere. He continues to carry on a correspondence and sort-of affair with Romy, who evidently recovered, while he is unemployed and drifting. He and Candy have friends, they go to parties, they take drugs, they have sex. He and a friend visit a whorehouse and at some point decide to start robbing stores with fake guns. Perhaps as a result, some thuggish girls show up at his house and terrorize him and Candy at gunpoint. After much soul-searching and pondering, he and his friend decide to seek revenge and end up being chased and cornered in the woods somewhere, as the narrator wonders about the significance of these events, how they could have happened, whether he really loves his wife, and so forth. VERDICT Throughout this long, slow, arduous account, the reader is essentially trapped inside the mind of a spoiled, alienated, fairly intelligent brat. Thirlwell (Politics) is not without talent, and some of his digressions are pretty funny, but the claustrophobic effect wears thin. [See Prepub Alert, 10/20/14.]—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
In a pallid sort of noir, a boy-man lurches through an aimless series of small adventures and stumbles into criminal behavior that eventually exacts its comeuppance.Thirlwell (The Escape, 2010, etc.) starts this trying novel with a strong episode and a real sense of foreboding. His hero wakes up in a hotel with memory gaps and a friend named Romy, whose bloody, comatose state requires some quasi-comedic devices to get her to a hospital. That his sweet wife, Candy, accepts a ludicrous explanation for his overnight absence and bloody T-shirt when he returns home reflects not her credulity but the cosseting she thinks his semidepressive state requires. A spoiled only child, he's in his early 30s, has quit working, has spent time in therapy and lives with Candy in his parents' home. He attends parties and ponders his relationship with Romy, a line of thought that gets gnarly when one party turns into an orgy and one polymorphous grouping entails him, Candy and Romy. He drifts into crime, and the book's noirish side grows darker. Throughout, he indulges in an endless diet of recreational drugs—"these increasing narcotic entertainments did make the way I thought perhaps a little blurred." And there's the main problem: the squishy, doped-up, self-indulgent slacker-hipster voice and thinking of this first-person narrative is so well-rendered and so tiresome. Even if Thirlwell captures a type and time, was this a trophy worth aiming for? It calls for a tweak of Samuel Johnson's dated line on a woman preaching and a dog walking on its hind legs: It is done well, but one is still surprised to find it done at all. Recent years have brought drug-drenched efforts from well-established artists Pynchon and Lethem. Perhaps the kindest thing one can say is that the talented Thirlwell has gotten his literary substance abuse out of his system at an earlier age.
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Lurid & Cute
By Adam Thirlwell
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Adam Thirlwell
All rights reserved.
in which our hero wakes up
When I woke I was looking upside down at a line of velvet paintings on the wall above the bed. Jesus was standing on his halo beside a very bright Madonna – I mean the religious kind, not the disco version. In between the two of them was a tropicana beach – it was a palm tree, a palm tree, a palm tree, some blue sand. I thought perhaps I liked them, these velvet paintings. I liked the very bright vibe. But also I knew that although I liked the vibe it was not the vibe of my usual bedroom, just as the girl who was sleeping beside me in what seemed to be a hotel room was not my happy wife. It was that kind of problem situation, and while I acknowledge that some people would not feel that this is after all so bad – and that waking beside a person who is not ethically your own is just the usual way most humans enter the moral realm and therefore, kiddo, live with it – still, I could not be so suave. For a long time now there had been problems in the atmosphere – small cracks and fissures, like butterflies emerging in autumn, a light tropicália everywhere and it made me a little afraid. Just as now I felt like my head was somewhere else and I also felt very sick. I knew my phone must be beside me and I knew that I should look at it but I really also didn't. If at this point you had placed me on a chat-show sofa and asked me how I was feeling, I'd have told you that I basically was feeling very sad. Because I really am no big shot, or hoodlum. I am no player. Always girls have made me shy. In this role of high-speed macho I was about as authentic as the white chicks doing gang signs for photos. It really wasn't normal for me to wake up and not know how I got there. For me a normal pastime was to be intent on mathematical problems, or models of voting systems – my pastimes, I just mean, were always sweet and meditative. Nevertheless, this new thing went on happening and I was powerless to stop it. My head was definitely very bad. In Brasilia they were coming off their night shift, in Tokyo they were having a first whisky sour. Four thousand miles away there were drones just very noisily hovering in formation above the mountain passes and valley gorges, and down here on the quiet earth a girl who was not my wife was lying there beside me. Her name was Romy, and she was one of my favourite friends. She was blonde and when you saw her in a bar her hair was this gorgeous listless mass to one side of her neck but now I had this inner knowledge that she wasn't a natural blonde. She almost had no hair between her legs but it turned out that the hair that was there, a tuft, was definitely dark. That's what I tried to concentrate on while the light began to fry the nylon curtains and Romy continued to sleep. Because even if you're bewildered or sad you have to carry on. I remember one bodhisattva phrase – keep cool but care – and that phrase is never wrong. It's most certainly a rule to live by and such rules should always be treasured. I hope that if I prove one thing in the writing of this account it's the importance of rules for living, which is perhaps why in this story of my moral life I have decided to begin with this episode of blood. It was I think the place where my usual categories disappeared. I got up and dressed and stood there just considering how I was going to go back home – I mean in what state and with what explanations. But it was also very early. It was both way too late and also very early so I thought for now I would start with getting myself some breakfast, because sometimes the only correct way to act is to take care of the ordinary things. You have to think things through in stages. So I walked out into the car park and along to the hotel restaurant where I sat myself down. From the booth in which I sat I had a very bright view. It was nothing special. Insects rotated slowly in the green dawn, they just kept developing from nowhere, from the bright and granular air. My car was in the parking lot outside our door, and beside it there was what looked like a Caddy Hearse but I ignored it. And maybe this was a mistake – to ignore what other people might consider a definite sign. If you're used to the unfranked letters arriving at your house, or phone calls where a man asks if he's got through to the chapel of rest, I mean if you're alive to the mafia ways of telling a man he's marked or savaged or doomed, then maybe it could be said that I made a mistake. Had I known then what I know now, had I been able to understand the full ranges of terror I would come to know, the gore and ballistics, had I been able to perform the kind of loop-the-loop this manner of talking now allows me, I might well have argued in this way. But I always missed the obvious. I don't know why. Other people appreciated the ordinary things like shopping-centre car parks and cafe parasols, or whatever – the coffee-machine coffee. But me, no. I was much better at my own ruminations. It was very bright and very sad inside this restaurant. The radio was talking to itself but I had nobody to talk to, so I sat there in my booth with a view of the empty signscape and read through the laminate menu. I waited. I looked out the window. I kept looking at my watch and then the landscape for ten minutes: my watch and then the landscape, my watch and then the landscape. I really don't like waiting. Finally a waitress emerged from the kitchen. Her name was on her breast pocket. This name was Quincy. In another font, another badge was wishing me a nice day. And it was a nice day, no question. It was CGI nice, if you had not woken up in a state of oozing anxiety.
— I was waiting ten minutes, I said.
— You said what? said Quincy.
— I'm not making a formal complaint, I said. — I just think you should know that I came in I think ten minutes ago. It's really nothing.
— Uh-huh, said Quincy.
I don't think she really cared but at least I'd tried to help. I ordered my vegetarian breakfast. My style of eggs was sunny side up, to use the outmoded term. The colour of my juice was orange. I did want the hash browns. I ate my fries with gusto. I added the ketchup and mustard. And when I'd finished, having dragged some toast across the red-and-yellow plate, I rubbed my glasses clean with a wipe that Quincy had provided for my fingers. It was kind of her because people's hands are often covered in germs. It's always good to be conservative. The wipe made my glasses smell pure but they now also stung my eyes. I looked out over the horizontal electric lines, then the horizontal lines painted on the tarmac. Then I looked out over the vertical road signs. The world was as empty as that. I felt very trapped and very sad. Although of course in retrospect I was nowhere near as sad as I should have been because in retrospect Fate was about to juice me even more than it already had. Fate was all around me, like the crimping on a beer-bottle top. But then, it's never obvious at what point you can use this language of in retrospect or too late, for although they seem like normal phrases they conceal much more than is useful, so that one major problem with living is that at every point of dejection you generally think you have reached the lowest depth, and so like everyone I tended to imagine that this frazzled state in which I found myself was the very worst state possible, just as when indeed I was inside something much more damaging to my ideal as debonair and open-hearted, as inside whatever ride of death you enter at the funfair, a ride in which I came to know grotesqueries and savagery I never imagined I would need to consider, at that point I no longer cared about this previous knowledge at all. Whereas here, in this hotel, I was stricken.
to discover his transformation
Because I do not like to do things that are wrong. I am totally against it. And one thing that does seem wrong is to wake up in a bed beside a woman who is not your wife. Or let's say, no, because in fact there are better or worse ways of doing the very bad thing, and in general as I examined this situation with as much scruple as possible, I had to admit that to do this with a woman who was in many ways your best friend was an extra mistake, because I think I would happily argue in whatever saloon you put me in that sex with a mutual friend is probably worse for your adored wife in the hierarchy of wrongs than sex with a momentary stranger. Or at least I would say it was possible – but I wasn't thinking about these moral issues as methodically as I would have liked, a distraction which is so often a problem in this busy reckless age, because also I had a heaviness in my bowels and it was preoccupying me too. As I walked back to this hotel room where Romy was presumably waiting in some sleepy spaced-out manner, with eyeliner smudged in a way that would no question be appealing, I was suddenly regretting not using the bathroom in the restaurant. Because while on the one hand I didn't like going back inside the restaurant just to use the bathroom, on the other hand the thought of returning to my room and sitting down and exploding in the small hutch next to where Romy was sleeping ... This didn't please me at all. But then I thought of a solution that made me proud. Before going back to the room, I decided, I would do the necessary checking out, and then silently take my backpack – for I am rarely without my backpack, partly because there's no end to the possessions I need to keep on my person for luck or voodoo or habit but also it's just the most useful method overall, I think, for taking objects with you if you're thinking about your future health – and then steal away. And afterwards I would go and get a coffee in a diner somewhere else and use whatever bathroom they could offer me and that was where I would more charmingly plan how I would return to my wife, Candy, in such a way that she didn't entirely hate me. This wasn't obviously usual for me – to leave a girl in bed without saying a proper goodbye. I would definitely admit that it seemed perhaps impolite. But in the end you have to choose among politenesses – and after all, I saw Romy very often. We would have many moments to discuss this and other aspects of our history. And also although I was in a very dark panic there was in me a sense that this manoeuvre did have a macho charm. It's not easy to admit it but as I stood there at reception, reading a calendar for the wrong month and the wrong year, I allowed myself this grizzled moment of glory. You, I was thinking, are paying for a girl to sleep. OK, she was no narco moll or Latina pop star, but still, it was something. It also occurred to me that if this was definitely happening then I might need more sustained medical attention. I needed more consideration applied to my pills. But that was only a parenthesis. And I would like to also assert at this early high point of pause and idyll that while it had its perhaps reprehensible machismo, this way of thinking, it surely also showed concern, for what can be kinder than not waking someone up when they don't want to? – and this concern was always something that my mother and father liked me to develop. They liked it when I thought about other people. They had a theory that one should work hard in this life. You are so impatient, booby, my mother said to me on many occasions in my life, like wanting to be more glorious than I am. Why do you never do things slowly? This was how she always talked. Wake up, darling, my mother would continue! If this is what you want, then you need to take your time to get it. What did I do wrong to make you so impatient? You want things always to be the big bright blue sky?
— I do not think this is what this is, I said.
— Of course, she said. — Keep arguing.
I think mothers are the atmosphere in which you have to live and I guess I do like that but it's also a miniature form of persecution, in the most lovable way possible. But still, I tried very hard to do as my parents would have wanted, which at this point meant considering the less fortunate lives of other people. The man who was at reception this early in the morning seemed a little sad so I thought about him with affection. He had a difficult job, I was thinking, an arduous job, which presumably necessitated answering phones to the people supplying the kitchens, as well as kids calling for a practical joke, and a woman arriving at four in the afternoon needing a room right now, and so on, as well as the preparation of check-in and check-out forms, and the monitoring of the pool maintenance team, and also the use of the credit-card machine. It was not easy at all. His name was Osman, and Osman, I was definitely thinking, seemed to shroud a deeper pain. He turned round to find a stapler or other office accessory and there was a dark scar behind his ear, as if from some bayonet or sabre or machete. Maybe in the heyday of Osman he had once been a fearsome Caucasian warlord, but events had so conspired that Osman was now here: in a chain hotel, taking calls. While at home he kept his videos, perhaps videos where he surveyed his troops, and I hoped that he did, because it's important to keep some kind of link to your past.
— Have a nice day and come back soon! said Osman.
— You too, man, I said.
I did mean it. A woman wearing headphones was swabbing down the wooden decking outside the rooms. I wanted to give her a gentle smile but she didn't see me.
Then I thought I saw my dead grandmother walking towards me, at least it looked like she looked in photographs. She seemed relaxed. It was very troubling. But when I was closer she was no longer my grandmother. She was nobody at all. So I tried to forget it. I could see the exit route back to something that I could call my ordinary life. It was very close. Inside the room the light was now brightly bleaching the curtains. I tried to turn off the ceiling fan because it was making this blurry kind of noise but instead I only turned on the bedside light. Romy didn't notice. I walked across to the desk, where my bag was propped. And although I was anxious to make what the pulp fictions must once have called the perfect getaway, I also wanted to kiss her goodbye. I don't know if that's pulp, or if it is then it's a different variant of pulp, the romance pulp, but still isn't that right – to kiss a girl goodbye while she's sleeping? Isn't that what the passionate do? So I walked to the bed, and bent over her. Romy was sleeping on her front, and beside her nose on the pillow there was a thin dark slick of blood.
whose reality he tries to doubt
Everyone thinks they will not be there when someone dies, I mean when someone dies who is not their endless and married love. Everyone thinks that things happen in regular sequences but of course they don't or not always. Time, as the fakir once put it, has this malicious ingenuity in the invention of affliction. In the end everything happens. Savage combinations are always possible and in fact I'm not sure they're combinations, so much as aspects of the same thing. This was the knowledge that was being forced on me while I stood there. I was fading in and out. I was like a hologram or optical illusion. Or like a neon sign. I was switching on and off and I was sinister. I looked down. What kind of big shot are you? I was saying to myself. A fucking small one. I looked up. The ceiling fan was still going round and round. That was basically a version of me too. I looked back down at Romy. Yes, everyone thinks they know the order in which things will happen but in fact this is not true at all. And also whether something has happened or not is rarely obvious. I think we tend to overexaggerate the idea that things are real. Or at least I was trying to think how real something was when it was so far entirely private. I mean, do your own mini quiz. When a gorgeous girl tries to kiss you in the back of a taxi when you're both high on ketamine, do you go home and tell your wife? I do not think so. You keep the gorgeous blonde to yourself as a stereoscope slide for winter evenings and therefore she does not exist at all. Or when your husband knows you do not smoke but you do in fact enjoy a secret cigarette, why do you upset his peace of mind? You find some chewing gum to sweeten your breath and go home as if nothing has happened. And if you act as if nothing has happened, if nothing in your behaviour ever hints that something has happened, then has it really happened? That's my question. That's what I mean by nothing happening, or one of the things I mean. At this precise moment this situation was only known to me and so it was maybe not known at all. Although it's not so easy to really think this when you are inside the situation itself.
Excerpted from Lurid & Cute by Adam Thirlwell. Copyright © 2015 Adam Thirlwell. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Meet the Author
Adam Thirlwell was born in London in 1978. He is the author of the novels Politics and The Escape; the novella Kapow!; a projectabout international novels, The Delighted States, which won a Somerset Maugham Award; and of a compendium of translations edited for McSweeney’s. He has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young Novelists. His work has been translated intothirty languages. He lives in London.
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