Monday, May 9, 2016

A Fringe Culture Love Letter: A Review of Locust House

The Locust is my favorite band, and I'm a fan of Adam Gnade’s music. So, yeah, buying Gnade's novella Locust House was a no-brainer for me. 

I didn’t really know what to expect though, as I’d never read any of Gnade’s fiction. 

Well, turns out he's pretty damn good at this literature thing.

Locust House is a novella-length rumination on a time, a place, and a culture. It’s an impressionistic love letter to San Diego’s fringe music scene, circa 2002. It is beautiful, unsettling, and immersive.

Gnade presents readers with a handful of misfit characters who orbit San Diego's gritty noise-punk milieu and frequent the Locust House—a home-turned-concert venue, rented and operated by the members of The Locust during the early 2000s. Some of these characters know each other, some don’t. However, they’re all drawn to The Locust's extreme, envelope-pushing music. They are propelled by feelings of alienation, deep political convictions, existential angst, and shitty relationships. They desire something raw and extraordinary in a society brimming with flatlining culture and post-9/11 paranoia. These characters, I should mention, are all secondary to the sights, sounds, smells, and ephemeral feelings that are lyrically detailed in the novella. 

Gnade deals heavily in fleeting moods, moments, and atmospheres—not so much in conventional story. Don’t start this book anticipating a plot. Don’t go in expecting traditional character development. The characters of Locust House are more the means than the ends

And it's worth noting that Gnade’s focus on setting and rich sensory details flies right in the face of current literary conventions. For that reason, Locust House was a breath of fresh air.

When done right, I love a good savory ramble. And Gnade pulls it off deftly. The world of Locust House is made entirely palpable for the reader—the frenetic music, the drugs, the dingy apartments, the steaming elotes locos. All of it.

Now, as I mentioned above, I love The Locust. For me, it was certainly enjoyable to read Gnade's hard-edged, romantic prose about artists who blew my world open during my younger years—just as they seemingly did for the book’s author.

That said, I'm not sure how most readers would respond to Locust House. Without at least some level of interest in The Locust and early-2000s noise-punk, I don't know that there'd be as much resonance. Locust House is, even for a work of novella-length, a pretty slow and impressionistic burn. 

So, with that in mind, here are a few pre-reading recommendations for those who might not know anything of The Locust or Adam Gnade. Take ‘em  or leave ‘em—I don't care.

1) Listen to some choice tracks from The Locust and other bands that come up in the novella. Lucky for you, I’ve put a list together so you don’t have to use your precious time scrounging around for this stuff.

Fret not over the size of the list—these songs are incredibly short. Many clock-in under a minute. 

Okay, have at it, Otis. This is the best of the best. Well, a small sampling of it, at least.

“Tower of Mammal” – The Locust

“Circle Jack” – Melt Banana

“Birth Control Blues” – Arab on Radar

2) Listen to some of Adam Gnade’s music. It’s not mandatory, but I think doing so will help you lock into the voice of Locust House. Gnade's got this beautiful spoken-word, neo-Beat delivery on his musical recordings. In Locust House, he seems to write in a way that conveys a similar feel, a similar rhythm. Having his voice in my head—the particular way he speaks—was definitely an asset to my experience with the book. 

Here are a few recommendations... 

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