Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kem Nunn

Tapping the Source Nunn’s coming of age novel which transcends the limitation of that genre with an unusually likeable protagonist, an interesting mystery, and a setting in a decaying milieu of bikers, surfers, drugs, orgies, punk rock, orgies, porn, ritual murder, and a sense of palpable evil. Each character brings its own set of quirks and contradictions and you never stop guessing what is going on until the very end. An incredible debut and even if you don’t care about surfing(though Nunn very much does and you share his passion as you read) but want to read a modern example of California noir at its most sun bleached and debauched find Nunn.
The Dogs of Winter: A Novel Are all human plans vanity in the face of nature and the twisted ways of life? Nunn seems to ask this question, focusing on fame, money, spirituality, revenge, and heroism showing them as faint comfort when it comes down. Compared with Straw Dogs and Deliverance this excellently plotted and characterized tale of foolishness, revenge, and violence set in the surreal beauty of the unforgiving wilderness of Northern California and Southern Oregon also treads ground similar to Denis Johnson’s Already Dead though much less fuzzy and David Lynch like(but not by much, some spooky stuff is in this book). Nunn writes with authority here.
Tijuana Straits Kem Nunn writes a novel like Robert Stone used to (Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise) so its no wonder he has earned Stone’s support and blurbs. Set in the wasteland between Tijuana and San Diego, the titular land is a former paradise turned to hell by NAFTA, Narcotrafficantes, the border patrol, free roaming militias, wild dog packs, and pollution. A decaying landscape that attacks its inhabitants. The nearby slums of Tijuana with its toxic abandoned factories is a similarly terrifying landscape that breeds the three killers whose remorseless actions propel the plot to finale of redemption for Nunn’s protagonist Fahey. While Nunn’s never shortchanges the socioeconomic events that form his trio of killers their relentless onslaught and the language that describes it evokes the Cormac McCarthy of No Country for Old Men, Outer Dark, and Blood Meridian. Nunn’s tales of blasted border landscapes and redemption also remind me of David Corbett’s recent work.

Pomona Queen A vacuum salesman makes the wrong stop and gets drawn into an encounter that puts him face to face with a psychopath and in direct grappling with his past, both his own and the squandered history of the Pomona Valley. Terrifying and sad at once this is a look at American decline, a character study, and suspenseful adventure occurring on one very long night. This never goes where you expect so enjoy the ride don’t try to guess what's next.

Unassigned territory There has always been hints of the occult and evil in Kem Nunn’s books, but none take a full on plunge into the territory (unintentional pun) like this book. Not a horror novel really but a book that slowly reveals itself like a half remembered dream or nightmare with a slightly awkward start and remains fairly disjointed but becomes gripping as you try grasp any thread of logic to pull you through a labyrinth of UFO cults, crazed rednecks, mythology, bizarre murders, gone to seed hippies, something called “the mystery of the Mojave”, and other high desert weirdness. The plot is part caper, part religious vision, part horror, road trip, comedy, and all weird. Comparison to David Lynch, Nathaniel West, Repo Man, and Flannery O’Connor are well earned by these bizarre proceedings. Resonances with Manson Family, Jonestown massacre, Zebra killings give this spooky stuff some weight, especially delivered in Nunn’s earthy style with its causal vulgarity and clearheaded descriptions. Nunn’s work is all underrated but none more than this forgotten second novel.

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