The Expelled; The Calmative; The End and First Love) in Paris; he knew Norman Mailer (The Deer Park) in New York and Leonard Cohen in Canada. His other novels include Young Adam.
With such connections one can understand his work. Cain's Book was finished in New York in late 1959; the influence of Miller and Godot is clear as is the fact that Trocchi would influence the beat writers. The rush of the style reminded me of Jack Kerouac and the fragmentation of the cut-up technique of William Burroughs (himself another junkie responsible for Naked Lunch, The Wild Boys, The Soft Machine etc.) The language is rich and intricate. It is difficult to read something so intense, especially when the structure is disrupted; there is always the danger (and especially with a memoir such as this) that the prose will become purple and the content will appear self-indulgent. But when it is done well it is exhilarating and Cain's book is heading towards the classic standard of Kerouac. They don't seem to write them like this anymore (though I was reminded of Eros Island by Tony Hanania.
Cain's book is the barely fictionalised story of a young junkie in New York. He remembers his Glaswegian childhood; he works on a 'scow' (a cargo-carrying barge); he has sex and takes drugs. It is somewhat chaotic, reflecting Trocchi's life, but it is an honest and informative account of heroin addiction.
In many ways, the narrator and protagonist Jack Necchi (a very thinly disguised portrait of Alex Trocchi) is the classic outsider (in terms of Colin Wilson's The Outsider). He lives on a barge on the edge of the city, in a liminal world where the land meets the water. He is a drug addict. In a burst of anger almost exactly at the three-quarters mark he describes his outsiderness in terms of detachment and alienation: "I was heavy with the sense of my own detachment ... gaining in intensity at each new impertinence of the external world with which I had signed no contract when I was ejected bloodily from my mother's warm womb. I developed early a horror of all groups, particularly those which without further ado claimed the right to subsume all my acts under certain normative designations in terms of which they could reward or punish me. I could feel no loyalty to anything so abstract as a state or so symbolic as a sovereign. And I could feel nothing but outrage at a system in which, by virtue of my father's good name and fortune, I found myself from the beginning so shockingly underprivileged." (p 119)
There are some wonderful pieces of prose:
- "The mind under heroin evades perception as it does ordinarily ...perceiving turns inwards, the eyelids droop, the blood is aware of itself, a slow phosphorescence in all the fabric of flesh and nerve and bone ... the organism has a sense of being intact and unbrittle, and, above all, inviolable." (p 2)
- "It is not possible to come quite naked to apprehension"
- "Anger and innocence ... those virgin sisters again." (p 17)
- "When a man fixes he is turned on almost instantly ... you can speak of a flash, a tinily murmured orgasm in the bloodstream" (p 17) I adore 'murmured orgasm in the bloodstream'!!!
- "Talking to Fay you have the impression you are speaking to the secretary of her personal secretary. ... It's not that she doesn't reply. It's simply you have the impression you are in touch with an answering service." (p 19)
- "The hysterical gymnastics of governments confronting the problem of the atomic bomb is duplicated exactly in their confrontation of heroin." (p 22)
- "The sky was darkening indigo and shifty with thin cloud. I thought: on such a night as this werewolves are abroad and the ambulances of death run riot in the streets." (p 26)
- "Perhaps I was the stranger you watched apprehensively from your kitchen window." (p 29)
- "Her beauty, I felt, would serve to put a frame round my own which, sad to say, had up till that time attracted the attention of few connoisseurs." (p 36)
- "Hard work never hurt anyone, I was told, but it killed my mother." (p 161)
Moments of genius. February 2020; 164 pages