Find a Seam. Plant a Mine. Slip Away.
In writer, Harold Jaffe’s OD, death looms in the margins. Instead of exploiting the deaths of each of the figures in the book, Jaffe meticulously reconfigures portions from their histories and consumptive excesses into short narratives that are both caricacture and homage. Aspects of each figure are rendered into composite sketches, fleshed out and dramatized without sentimentality. Like a rogue taxidermist or mirthful forensic scientist, Jaffe pulls the raw strands of narrative DNA, striping the idealized patina away from figures like Lady Day, Edgar Allen Poe and Jimi Hendrix. Drugs and excess may have been the cause of their demise but Jaffe’s reimaginings suggest that by pushing themselves to the limit physically and mentally they were able to achieve brilliance.
Through the centrifugal force of his prose, Jaffe exposes and ‘treats’ each accordingly, illuminating new perspectives. Most notably, the chapter on Edgar Allen Poe is a delirious, hallucinogenic journey through an urban landscape that resolves in a dervish-like dance in a crowded ballroom. His subject is reanimated in the present with a mind from the past and makes erudite observations that are both humorous and terrible and OD is terribly humorous.
Was People’s Temple leader Jim Jones an undercover CIA operative gone rogue?
Did Jim Morrison die in a Paris bathtub at twenty-seven?
Was Bela Lugosi really Lon Chaney in makeup? MK Ultra and COINTELPRO are woven cleverly into the subtext.
Though it is a quick read, the writing is sharp and packed with imagery and meaning.
Walter Benjamin, Abbie Hoffman, Diane Arbus and Philip Rothko along with Bela Legosi, Jean Seberg and Jim Jones are each evaluated for their contributions to the culture. Jaffe renders them with surgical precision, finding seams, planting mines and slipping away. To be sure, his prose is subversive. Yet it is filtered through a careful, introspective eye.
Through fabricated interviews, conversation, ‘official statements’ and narrative fiction, Jaffe makes use of every form, illuminating new angles. OD serves as a cogent reminder that those who operate outside the tenets of official culture–their time compressed and abbreviated by excess–have left us with an indelible legacy, as Jaffe has done with this evocative narrative.
Great review of a great book.