Monday, October 4, 2010

Zeroville / by Steve Erickson

Ike Jerome, nicknamed "Vikar", arrives in Hollywood in the summer of 1969 with nothing but an extremely odd tattooo on the back of his bald head. The image shows a silhouetted image of two movie stars: Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in a rendering of a scene from the film A Place in the Sun. As a man haunted by a severely restricted, irregular past and largely unfamiliar with his own identity, Vikar is a curious character even amidst the counterculture of the day. He's a bit edgy too, erratic at times, confrontational and frequently violent (especially when it comes to misunderstandings about his tattoo). He's coherent enough though and at times ironically intellectual, his psyche seemingly held together by a curious mixture of conviction and fascination over his passion in life--the world of the movies.
Vikar is an obsessive, almost possessed devotee to the movies, having only seen his first real film at the age of 16--his rigidly pious, overbearing father disallowing all forms of popular entertainment. He has since become enraptured by all things silver screen; the actors, directors, cinematography, production design, etc. all drawing him almost trance-like back to the the theater, often multiple times in one day. Now in Hollywood, a place Vikar is sure he will find people to share his love for the cinema, he discovers the world around him to be oddly clueless. The hippy landscape on which he's landed is largely disassociated from moviemaking, instead focused more on drugs, sex, music and progressive activism. In addition, it's a culture now targeted by the authorities owing to the recent Manson family murders. Vikar, ever conspicuous with his peculiar appearance and vagrant status living as a tramp in the Hollywood Hills, has even been interrogated on suspicion of his own involvement with the crime even as he's never heard of Charles Manson or his "family"
Zeroville is an exquisite literary experience. Reminiscent of Don Delillo or Thomas Pynchon with its unconventional structure--terse 1 or 2 paragraph chapters and idiosyncratic subject matter--the novel is a refreshing work by a talented writer, equally provocative and entertaining at every turn. The author of award-winning novels like Amnesiac, Arc d'X and The Sea Came in at Midnight, Erickson's work has been described as apocalyptic for its rendering of themes involving dysfunctional societies and isolated characters. Zeroville carries this notion to a new level with a familiar place and time inhabited by quite a unique individual surrounded by a world seemingly on the edge of destruction. (FIC ERICKSON)

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