“You’ll either love it or hate it. Although, in my experience, if something is ever described as ‘love it or hate it,’ it is, without fail, fucking terrible.”
—The Last Projector
I don’t usually like being confused this much.
Are you familiar with choogling? No? Good. Shut up, seriously, I don’t care anymore. The Last Projector is a time-choogling rabbit punch to your skull candy that never forgets to keep the conversation interesting. It’s also David James Keaton debut novel following closely on the heels of his collection Fish Bites Cop! Stories to Bash Authorities.
It feels like a long hibernating story that’s only gotten weirder and more pissed off, whatever it is, the longer its been kept from civilization. I’m paraphrasing John Carpenter’s masterpiece The Thing here for good reason; not only is The Last Projector partly a meditation on cult movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s it also contains a rap song written about John Carpenter’s The Thing. The song is called The Rap Is The Thing ( Or Your Blood’s Gonna Scream) and yes, it is excellent, and yes, you can hear it here:
But that original rap song is only like the 5th coolest thing about this novel. Some books define categorization, and then some books like The Last Projector actually wriggle free from your grasp like greased up marmosets furiously doing the Sprocket’s dance. Ostensibly the book is about a paramedic named Jack who now goes by Larry and who directs porn while also guerilla filmmaking a straight movie on his off hours about his former life as a paramedic. Larry the porn director is losing what’s left of his mind along with his artistic integrity and both of these seem to revolve around his obsession with tattoos and how they’re destroying the authenticity and continuity of his porn movies. Sounds reasonable, right? There’s also another story about two teenagers who might as well be auditioning for Christian Slater and Wynona Rider’s roles in Heathers that are grimly fixated on a local cop and his K9 partner. Still with me? Then there’s a whole thing about a woman named Jacki who survived a very strange car crash years ago who might be tied up with Jack/Larry the paramedic turned porno director. And everyone seems to have a doppelganger or a doggerganger (dogs are important to this story) for some reason. Confused? You’re welcome.
The disparate elements and characters begin to coalesce after a while but just as soon as you start to think you know where this fucking book is headed the plot points and the story beats metastasize, turn corrupt and grow gnarled on you. That’s a compliment. Because Keaton’s voice, his direction is solid. Even if we’re lost it feels like it’s because he wants us to be. And most importantly, yeah, we’re lost, but the author isn’t. Time and identity is played very slippery here, you’re never quite sure what decade things are taking place in or who anyone really is. Or if they’re only one person. Aiding and abetting this swirling dream state feel here are mentions of the movie Saw Part VXIII and when one character sees a poster for Cronenberg’s The Fly and remarks having no memory of ever hearing about the film existing.
“Music, movies, and books followed you forward and back. Time was broken when it came to media objects. Occasionally, time could break when it came to music. But time would always be broken when it came to movies.”
Underneath all this ornate dressing and psychedelic framing is a story about identity, regret and the peril and untrustworthiness of memory. How nothing is the way you remember it and if all we really are is merely a summation of that unreliable memory how can we really be sure who we are in the first place? All this existential digging and the book’s other ruminations on gritty and brutal topics like rape, murder and insanity might be excessive and depressing if not for Keaton’s knack for Altmanesque dialogue and angular, swift prose. His screwball characters easily drop into exchanges that seem like back alley sonnets or dive bar philosophical debates with aplomb and flourish. The dialogue reaches that perfect teeter-totter between stylized and natural. No one talks like this in real life per se but it’s not far off. More like the way you remember some of your best tangents and conversations than how they were actually spoken.
Likewise the narration is never stymied by too much over production or is it too stark to be inviting. Like a good rhythm section it knows when to hang back and support and then, when the time is right, it knows when to make with the flashy fills.
“Heart pounding in panic, he went back to something a little more high-end instead, safer, shriller. Squier.”
Judging from the title of his first collection of stories author David James Keaton has a bit of a problem with authority figures and this trend is thankfully continued with The Last Projector where it reaches its unavoidable conclusion. And I’m not talking about Officer Bigbee, the dipshit, belligerent cop that the two teenager characters in Projector are considering using a bomb on, he’s a fascinating fascist but he’s not our endboss. No, with this novel Keaton sets his sights on the ultimate authority figure: himself, the author. The idea of an author, an all knowing, information controlling, giving and at times withholding fictional godhead, this is what Keaton seems to take umbrage with the most and poke fun at with his unorthodox, convention shirking stylings. With his tense changes and reality warping. He doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as much as he slaps a big fat ass against it and asks how much it likes its fresh pressed ham.
Learn to enjoy confusion, get familiar with choogling.
THE LAST PROJECTOR |BROKEN RIVER BOOKS| AVAILABLE NOW