"A wild roar of a novel . . . Writing about music is tricky. Ninety-nine percent of the time hearing the actual song or going to the actual concert is far more revealing than any paragraph describing it. But Jackson pulls off this near-impossible feat, pulling the reader past the velvet ropes into the black-box theaters and sweaty, sticky-floored stadiums." —Marisha Pessl, The New York Times Book Review
An epidemic of violence is sweeping the country: musicians are being murdered onstage in the middle of their sets by members of their audience. Are these random copycat killings, or is something more sinister at work? Has music itself become corrupted in a culture where everything is available, everybody is a "creative," and attention spans have dwindled to nothing?
With its cast of ambitious bands, yearning fans, and enigmatic killers, Destroy All Monsters tells a haunted and romantic story of overdue endings and unlikely beginnings that will resonate with anybody who’s ever loved rock and roll.
Like a classic vinyl single, Destroy All Monsters has two sides, which can be read in either order. At the heart of Side A, “My Dark Ages,” is Xenie, a young woman who is repulsed by the violence of the epidemic but who still finds herself drawn deeper into the mystery. Side B, "Kill City," follows an alternate history, featuring familiar characters in surprising roles, and burrows deeper into the methods and motivations of the murderers.
“At some point, I began to think of it as an ancient folk tale. It’s fine work, with a kind of scattered narrative set within a tight frame. Fast-moving throughout—fragile characters who suggest a bleak inner world made in their own collective image.” —Don DeLillo
"Destroy All Monsters has a distinct pulse—a kind of heartbeat—that comes out of the rhythm of the prose, the inventiveness of the form, and the willingness of Jeff Jackson to engage the mysterious alchemy of violence, performance, and authenticity. This accomplished, uncanny novel is simultaneously seductive and unsettling." ?—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others and Eat the Document
“Surges with new-century anxiety and paranoia . . . A clear-eyed, stone-cold vision of what’s to come.” —Ben Marcus
“Jeff Jackson is one of contemporary American fiction’s most sterling and gifted new masters. Destroy All Monsters . . . is a wonder to behold.” —Dennis Cooper
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
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part one THE EPIDEMIC
Anybody can shoot anybody.— LYNETTE "SQUEAKY" FROMME
It was as if I knew it was going to happen. A dull feeling of dread had been gathering. The signs were getting harder to ignore. At the end of my street, I discovered a drum kit at the bottom of an overgrown ravine. Piece by piece, somebody had hurled it down the steep precipice and abandoned it there. A bass drum, snare, and cymbals were scattered in the shallow streambed, surrounded by tangled vines, rocks, and fallen branches, subtly rerouting the flow of the rippling water. My first thought wasn't to marvel at the strange sight, but to wonder why the rest of the band's equipment was missing.
I told my boyfriend Shaun about it, but he didn't see any deeper significance.
— Xenie, he said. It's probably some angry kid who didn't like his birthday present.
— It looked expensive, I said. Like a set a pro might play.
Something about this image made Shaun laugh.
— Xenie, he said. Drummers are practically feral. The best ones aren't even housebroken. Maybe that's just the guy's new practice space.
I tried to shake it off, but I kept thinking about how much had changed in Arcadia since I'd met Shaun. Over the past three years, the economy tanked and the wheelchair factory shut down. The Carmelite Rifles moved away to cash in on their success, and it wasn't long before several of the city's best musicians followed their lead, betting their fortunes lay elsewhere. The scene's heyday faded like a dull mirage. Nobody was surprised when Arcadia's only record store closed its doors. Outside the Broken Ear, the owner left piles of records, cassettes, and compact discs free for the taking. Weeks after the locks were changed and the windows covered with construction permits, the stacks remained untouched, blackening in the weather.
The clubs were still doing business, but there wasn't much excitement now around the shows. Even longtime landmarks like Echo Echo lost some of their allure. The theater downtown rarely booked homegrown acts, and it was easy to understand why. Most local musicians had little ambition, low standards, less taste. The bands that used to stun audiences and rampage across the stage — Taconic Parkway, Jerusalem Crickets, the 40 Thieves — had all broken up. Their members branched off in dozens of musical directions, forming projects that felt increasingly detached from their origins, part of a family tree of mediocrity. Nobody in the scene played for any stakes. People still came together in the night to get drunk and share gossip and hook up, but the music mattered less and less.
Whenever we went to see shows, Shaun always did his best to cheer me up. The more boring the band, the more he got turned on. His fingers would begin the set massaging my shoulders. If the music got worse, they'd steadily work their way down my body. Sometimes we spent most of the night making out in shadowy corners of the club, working the buttons on each other's jeans. If the band was really dire, we'd sneak off to a secluded bathroom stall and create our own competing soundtrack.
I was collecting more music than ever on my computer, but I rarely listened to it. I realized I was getting more pleasure from amassing the files than actually playing them. I'd spend hours obsessively accumulating an artist's entire discography, then promptly forget about it for months. Whenever I managed to spin my newly acquired songs, they rarely came across as more than modest diversions. It was hard to make myself believe any of it mattered. More troubling, even my favorite music was barely able to hold me in its sway, its pleasures easily eroded by the world around it.
One afternoon, I carried my hard drive full of songs through the street to the ravine. I let the plastic device drop and watched it careen down the weed- choked embankment and crash into the creek below. The battered black rectangle rested at the bottom of the stream, surrounded by the rusted drum kit whose punctured snare drum was now a nest for a family of sparrows. Several open red throats peeked from the spiral of dried grass and bent twigs, waiting to be fed.
That night, I dreamed about a group of boys emerging out of the darkness, following a path through the woods, one after the other. The boy with the shaved skull. The boy with the scraggly beard. The boy with the black overcoat. They each held an instrument — bone flute, rattling gourd, stick strung with a single metallic wire. There was a strange determination to their lurching steps as if they were in a trance. As they came closer, it became clear that they were covered in mud. Their clothes and faces caked in the stuff. Or rather, it was blood. A wet redness that refused to shimmer in the dim light. It obscured everything except the boys' lidless stares. Their eyes were white orbs, the exact shape of the absent moon.
Nobody paid much attention to the account on the news of the first killing, but it made me feverish with anticipation and dread. I felt dizzy as I listened to the report of what had happened hundreds of miles away. My forehead was dotted with droplets of sweat. Shaun couldn't help noticing how distracted I'd become. As we sat there together on the couch, I stared at the television screen long after he turned it off.
— Xenie, he said. Are you okay?
I tried to nod my head, but my body wouldn't respond.
— You're so pale, he said. What's the matter?
Shaun was genuinely concerned. He rubbed my cold hands, trying to stimulate some circulation.
I wanted to tell him, but I was overwhelmed by the multiplying images of violence rattling through my mind. The teenage boy walking into the local battle of the bands in the rented veterans hall and pulling out a handgun. He aims his shots squarely at the group onstage. The drummer tumbles backward off his stool. There's blood on the wall. Another bullet brings the lead singer to his knees. There's a hole in his chest, but he reaches toward the scattering crowd, arms extended, as if he's trying to say something.
I needed to be alone. I went upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I sat on the floor and waited for the unsettling visions to subside, then I turned on the shower. Usually I loved to sing while I washed. I'd belt out tunes, lyrics half remembered, the sound of my voice obscured by the rush of water and the echo off the ceramic tiles.
But this time, I remained under the pelting stream until it ran ice cold, until my fingerprints vanished in folds of puckering skin. I only opened my mouth to let it fill with water, letting it overflow, until it felt like I was about to choke.
The boy with long hair wakes with a shout, knowing something is wrong. His hand thrashes around, probably searching for a lamp, but the bedside table is empty. He sits upright and clenches the sheets in his fists. He remains motionless while his breath slows and his eyes adjust to the darkness. He's having trouble remembering something. He combs his brown hair out of his face. He's fully dressed in strategically ripped jeans and a vintage cowboy shirt. Even his high-top sneakers are laced.
He takes several wobbly steps toward the window. He stretches the kinks out of his trim frame, then slides open the curtains, but no light streams into the room. It's pitch black outside. Down below, the shadowy expanse of grass, the stand of overgrown boxwoods, and the outline of a concrete pathway creep into focus. His chin drops to his chest. Memory comes flooding back. Oh shit, he's late.
The boy with long hair turns on his cell phone, winces at the glowing display of the time, and makes a call. Nobody answers. He hangs up without leaving a message. For several moments, he stares into the corner of the room, as if expecting some shape to materialize from the shadows.
He spots a note at the foot of the bed. He cautiously uncreases the paper. The handwriting looks like it was executed underwater. The dissolving letters form a name and street address. Some sort of reminder to himself. At the bottom, he's inscribed a set of circles, one inside the other, that resembles a target. He seems hypnotized by this increasingly tight series of spirals ...
Bands were being shot in the middle of their performances all across the country. The noise duo at the loft party in the Pacific Northwest. The garage rockers at the tavern in the New England suburbs. The jam band at the auditorium on the edge of the midwestern prairie. The bluegrass revivalists at the coffeehouse in the Deep South. There was never any fanfare. The killers simply walked into the clubs, took out their weapons, and started firing.
Everybody was slow to call it an epidemic. They didn't want to believe these deaths were connected. I tried to discuss it with my coworkers at the diner, but they reacted with raised eyebrows and sideways stares, treating me like the customer who only ordered glasses of chocolate milk and claimed that birds were trying to communicate with him. They keep following me, he said. They never shut their filthy fucking mouths.
I kept my ideas to myself, even though it was clear that the killers weren't acting in isolation. It was as if they'd all been infected by the same idea. They seemed to be obeying the same subconscious marching orders.
Somehow I knew each act of violence was a prelude to another. The night before each new shooting, I'd find myself closing the curtains throughout the house and pacing figure eights in the bedroom carpet without understanding why. These events seemed like something plucked from my most disturbing daydreams. Whenever I thought about the bodies of the dead musicians, my mind went blank.
Was there some kind of message?
I blew the dust off my old tarot deck. I laid a black cloth on the kitchen table, cut the cards, and arranged them. Each arcanum was illustrated with lurid gothic lines. No matter how many times I shuffled them, I was always confronted by the catastrophic image of the Tower, lightning striking a stone structure, fire leaping from the windows, human figures tumbling through space. It felt like a spell had been cast, giving shape to something formless floating in the air. Part of me worried that somehow I had unleashed it, as if I had accidentally uttered an incantation in my sleep.
The boy with long hair stumbles from the darkened bedroom into a narrow hallway. He lurches past the entrance to the bathroom and flicks a switch. A bare bulb illuminates the worn shag carpet, the old framed photograph, the faded red wallpaper. The walls seem sprayed with a disorienting pattern of violent splotches. Only on closer inspection do they reveal themselves as miniature roses, each interlocking petal intricately etched.
He starts down the staircase and trips on the first steps. Catching himself on the banister, he slows and descends one tentative step at a time. The ground floor of the house is dark. The only sounds are the hum of a distant dishwasher and the squeak of his sneakers across the wooden floorboards. As he navigates the living room, he narrowly avoids banging into the exercise bicycle. He unlocks the front door and sets foot in the yard. The beat-up sedan at the curb beckons.
The boy with long hair slides into the driver's seat and slaps himself in the face. His eyes flare to life as his cheeks redden. He turns the ignition, revs the engine, and peels into the empty street. The floor is scattered with CDs, but he doesn't put on any music. He rolls down the windows and lets himself be enveloped by the sounds of the night. As he coasts downhill, swerving through a succession of dimly lit side streets, he consults the note with the address.
He arrives at a cul-de-sac lined with bungalows whose yards alternate between barren dirt patches and knee-high weeds. The car skids to a halt in front of a white stucco house. The front porch is bowed by a molting leather couch. Splintering planks are nailed across one of the windows. The porch light secretes a gauzy malarial glow. The boy sprints up the overgrown walkway and slams his fist against the front door, beating out an enigmatic rhythm ...
The expressions of the national news commentators and expert consultants remained stubbornly blank as they speculated on the causes of the killings. What motivated the violence? Why were musicians the only targets? Why was it only happening in smaller venues?
The black metal band ripped apart by an automatic rifle in the basement of a scuzzy rock club. The psychedelic band expertly picked off from the balcony of the renovated movie theater. The hip-hop collective shot at close range at the sweaty warehouse show. The female punk rockers massacred in the college town's most celebrated venue. The Afrobeat ensemble murdered when a grenade was rolled onto the stage of the international center. The indie rock show that turned into a blood-soaked melee in the cramped confines of a suburban house show.
Few of the bands were familiar to me. They were mostly small-time acts, locked in their own communities, but their names briefly became national headlines with photographs of the crime scenes serving as their publicity shots. It was always gruesome. Immobile bodies contorted in unnatural poses, instruments spackled with gore, the stage covered in dark pools that resembled bottomless shadows.
I warned Shaun about the killings, and he promised never to do anything reckless. He seemed to take it seriously, at least for my sake, and I wanted to believe him. But I could also tell he was more focused on his latest band, which was starting to make a name for itself in town. He and his bandmates sat in our living room for hours tweaking the mixes of their upcoming single and listening to demos of their latest tunes. They pored over maps as they plotted a tour itinerary, eager to take their music beyond the confines of Arcadia.
His bandmates were even more cavalier about the danger. I guess Shaun liked to surround himself with people willing to say the things he never wanted to speak aloud — those guys thought they had it all figured out. They were smug in their easy theories:
— The killers are just frustrated musicians.
— The killers are just settling personal grudges.
— The killers just got tired of post offices and schools and started shooting up rock clubs.
Over the next few weeks, I tried to block out the violence and made a point of avoiding the news. The first killings were terrifying, but as they gained momentum my reaction started to change. I saw it. There was a pattern. An idea behind what the killers were doing. I could feel their thoughts buzzing. I could almost trace the shadow cast by their actions.
Everyone at the diner had become swept up in the epidemic, arguing about the latest tragedy, stunned and tearful as the body count mounted. I was surprised that I never cried or watched the memorials or read about the victims. I was scared, but I had to admit it — part of me wanted the epidemic to continue.
The boy with long hair keeps knocking until somebody inside the house stirs. A woman cracks the front door just enough so that he can make out her green eyes and pinprick pupils. She squints at him as if looking through a rapidly rotating kaleidoscope. Nobody's here, she says.
— I've come for the package, says the boy with long hair.
— Johnny's already gone.
— I know I'm late, the boy says, but he said he got the delivery. I'm sure he left it. He knows I need it for tonight.
— He didn't say anything.
— Let me in and I'll look for it myself.
— Nobody's here.
— Look at me, says the boy. Do I seem like a guy who's going to cause trouble?
He pulls back his long hair to showcase his good looks, cherubic cheeks, long lashes. He adds a wink and a wolfish smile. The door slowly swings wide, and he comes face-to-face with an emaciated young woman with stringy brown hair. She's wrapped inside an enormous jacket with cascading leather fringe. Her sole reaction is a quavering fish-eyed stare.
— There isn't any left, she says.
— I'm not here for drugs, says the boy.
— You can't tell Johnny that I took them all.
— He'll never know.
The boy with long hair dashes past her and into the nearest bedroom. The stale air reeks of pot smoke. Algae scum floats across the top of a half-filled fish tank. He rifles through the piles of paper, stencil drawings, cutout images on the desk. Yanks open the dresser drawers. Crawls through the closet, frantically patting his palms along the floor. Flips over the mattress. On the coiled metal springs, he discovers a square cardboard box ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Destroy All Monsters"
Copyright © 2018 Jeff Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Side A: My Dark Ages,
Part One: The Epidemic,
Part Two: The Echoes,
Chapter One: The Erased,
Chapter Two: The Equals,
Chapter Three: The Elect,
Chapter Four: The Exits,
Chapter Five: The Embers,
Side B: Kill City,
Part One: The Destroyers,
Part Two: The Devoted,
Part Three: The Dream,
Also by Jeff Jackson,
A Note About the Author,