A pulp fiction novella set in the middle of nowhere
Remember good old pulp fiction? I do, and I certainly miss it (like someone commented on a thread: e-books are like watching someone go bungee jumping. Wouldn’t you rather go yourself?). Turning pages endlessly, with my legs dangling across the edge of my bed (something I call the Book Reader’s Yoga) and pretending to be asleep whenever my mother would wake up to check on me… the good times.
So when you come across a title called goodpulp, you expect a feast for the brain-cow.
Drug dealers with Marlboro-smoking rich daddies, both giddy with power and desperation, a man who almost bled to his death and a girl-next door. What do you think happened as their worlds collided?
On a cold night, Destiny finds a mysterious, battered young man lying half dead at her feet as she struggles to a get hold of whatever still remains of her life. While waiting tables at an across-the-street restaurant owned by her Mexican drug dealer boyfriend Marco, who reverts to using his family name both to threaten and squiggle out of fights. Empty beer bottles at the window sill and her best friend from work, Jenny are just about the daily equivalent of SOS.
30 year old firefighting Doug Gelsleichter has ‘seen some crazy shit…’. His intensely riveting tale of vendetta and undead hope lures you into Destiny’s uncertain world, and what happens when she and Mysterious Man James are caught in a tangle of the Dutch, trigger-happy henchmen after their life, and scars; it is a fight against time, against what there has always been and a fight to move beyond what both of them already knew.
grips your attention with a well-articulated start to the story, capturing a multitude of sentiments in a page’s expanse. It is dark, lonely and cold; just like the weather in the middle of nowhere. “She gasped, holding it a few seconds longer than she would have – staring at him as he clutched at her leg.”
And: “‘Otherwise, I’m fucked.’ And he caught himself on the window, ripping up the blinds.”
For someone who hasn’t dabbled in literature or creative writing courses per se, Gelsleichter weaves his words with seemingly effortless ease and then later, your mind into it too. So when I first read an excerpt from the first chapter on his blog, it engaged me in the way that leaves you with a sunken but undying curiosity over what could possibly follow– I couldn’t stop reading.
A few clicks later, I set out to navigate the seedy underbelly of crime, frustration, passionate drama.
A look at the cover will tell you it is dark, there are bullets (a lot more than three) and there’s blood smeared (on one corner?). Sadness was a companion who never left, as Dest would often find. Growing up in a small town with her mother’s violent boyfriend(s) ever ready to rip their lives apart, there was much Destiny once hoped to do and be. Sadly—and ironically—her life plays out on the same track as her mom’s. ‘People thrive on addiction in small towns.’ Couldn’t be any truer, eh? She seeks solace in the occasional bottle of whiskey and parking lot lights, and later—James’ blue eyes.
Have a history with drug peddling rivals she did: one was her ex; the other was her cross to bear. She ‘caused us more bullshit than she’s worth, I’ll tell ya.’ Her character reveals about herself in bouts of drunkenness, ‘all the years of built up bullshit’; Doug paints her in splashes of hues: one, then the next, revealing one thread at a time of the life she once had and no longer does and of the one she finds herself in.
James is still recovering from an amateur attempt to relieve him of a bullet in his arm. While Jenny continues to be a constant support, Destiny begins to seek comfort in the precious moments of urgency she shares with James. She battles ex-flame Justin’s unannounced appearances, even as she wonders if she can move on and move out; not like she really had a choice—if she stayed here, she was as good as dead. Justin is a generous slob of grey who is dictated by his impulses and the availability of his father’s men; he surely couldn’t have missed the chemistry between the Destiny and James. More than loss of business, jealousy proved to be a greater motivation for him to act.
Showing up on a Mexican kingpin’s radar with ‘the war trophy’ is never a good idea. Expectedly, calculated chaos ensues; at the end of it all, Marco’s father is shot and burnt following a high-strung action sequence that begins with blowing up a truck.
Each character is well-drawn out despite the novella’s (obviously) short run; as you continue reading, you begin to connect with Destiny as if she was one of your own. She makes you smile as she bungles up orders at work while thinking of James, you can almost feel the lump in her throat when she rediscovers the remnants of her earlier years. You want to pluck her out of this ‘shithole’ of a place and release her. You want her to fall in love again, and with the right guy; I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this was Destiny’s book left open for you to read.
The other central character is the one that stays around in my mind for much long after I am done reading. James is a firm man who has been beaten to the last bone; his exhausted body plays canvas to all designs that are testimony. A clear, unattached mind, yet when he meets Dest, he finds himself slipping back to a life he once lived. He’s a catalyst, as he proclaims.
He knows enough to not trust too many people with what he knew. A coconut of a man, he feels, he experiences and he loves, yet he shows nothing. James is the sort of coconut who has his circle of trust verified and in place. His words hang in the air like the Cheshire cat’s smile; they often seem to wish there was another time, another place. Another world, perhaps? He is no saint. He has hated, he has killed and he would stop at nothing to be where he thinks he should; what sets him apart is his reasons. He’s the whiter shade of grey you see on occasions. Not the kind to play second fiddle to anyone, James is naturally opposed to the nepotic drug dealing nexus he finds himself in.
If it was sadness for Destiny, it is pain for James. If was the lights in the parking lot for her, the Dutch does it for him. Why the gunshots, why left half dead over a hill: here’s something James never reveals. Each sequence that features Dest and James speaks of an electric affection they had begun to share: somewhere, along the way, they’d found a common ground to hoist it on; it was a wild, cackling affair and quiet some other times, yet the passionate undercurrents in their encounters are unmistakable. So when the storm subsides for most part, it leaves you crushed. On his way out of ‘the middle-of-nowhere town’, Doug puts it down with an understated yet heavy beauty to it, like a drowning whisper… with the art of someone who has loved and lost: ‘The young man stood up—limping west – away from his Pyrrhic victory—a bitter sweet taste in his mouth – the sun beginning to blanket the town in a new day. Stopping himself from looking back- James continued on his way.’ The last moments of the story are captured in much the same method, as Justin is left reeling under the perpetual question of ‘Why him and not me?’.
You can follow Doug and all the good pulp on Twitter @goodpulp.