An excerpt of Jack Eidt’s recent novel Nowhere Beckons was published in the Luna Review. Called ‘The Blue Basement’, it narrates the protagonist T.’s visionary descent into the urban underworld, where ideas, light, and color blend, and surviving on the journey to the end of the night is everything.
The Blue Basement
Fiction by Jack Eidt, Published by Luna Review, Edited by Max Devoe Talley
Voices, a hundred and three whispers broadcasted into his head from a celestial radio transmission, spoke up through the chatting, smoking, drinking, dancing. The lights hypnotically spun like a blue-popping chain, flicker, speed and move – you can’t follow them. The people impelled to the light and sound, blending into the experiential. He listened to the voices…
“Nirvana signifies extinction,” a tall man said to no one in particular, sitting on the corner ledge, seeming mesmerized by the popping lights. “It’s like a lamp extinguished through lack of fuel, the flame of passion is exhausted, with no more chance for rebirth…into nothing.”
“You are friends with William?” T. turned and it was a woman, two, in fact. The first wore a pelt of an ocelot, fake, her hair silver, like straw, a wig. Her eyes were sunken, complexion sallow, but her outfit suggested an assumed radiance. He knew her from William’s cadre of scene-enthusiasts, and remembered the curious fate of her ex-boyfriend, an artist named Rafa, who died of something no one could explain. Maybe an ocelot attack?
“Yes,” he answered, looking through her toward the crowd.
Jack Eidt Interview with Max Talley of Luna Review
Luna: I’ve known you since 2007 and you were already an accomplished writer. When did you begin writing fiction?
As a Western Mass. high school student, I wrote a satire on LA: “It Never Rains in Southern California,” not yet having stepped foot in California, title appropriated, and thus appeared a teller of tales. I took undergraduate fiction classes, and later quit my job at Disney to spend a year in Latin America figuring out what it meant to write about people and places. Then I wrote a novel where I reconstructed the Mayan creation myth the Popol Vuh, which, had it been published, probably would have resulted in a Mayan curse. Remember what happened to Mel Gibson after Apocalypto. Learning to write is a process.
Luna: You’ve done stories, or excerpts from novels, on U.S. characters traveling through Mexico and South America. Did you just fictionalize your own journeys through those regions, or should we assume the polluted, sometimes diseased protagonists are basically you?
Imagination competes with living reality and always wins. Of course, my travels and illnesses have inspired and informed gringo characters and stories of navigating the Mesoamerican wilderness, making and losing connections with indigenous, Afro-Carib, and Ladino societies. The non-fiction versions, however, give reason to the adage that truth is stranger than fiction, and remain untellable. People don’t want to read about how an unknown twentysomething would-be-writer talked himself onto river cargo boats and along for hunting expeditions, just to find a forest farthest from roads and electricity where he could sit in a hut and write disjointed sentences in a moldy notebook.
Luna: Do you have any writing rituals that help connect with the creative flow? Thomas McGuane spoke of writing immediately upon waking so he still felt partially in a dream state.
I generally write about place, and people’s response to their environment: culture. That’s why I attempt to capture first drafts surrounded/entranced by my setting. If I’m writing about the Guatemala highlands, then I save some money, get on a bus, find a hotel in a village, and hide out until the credit card gets rejected. When I get into the larger push to synthesize a first draft into a full novel, I need to put as many days together in a relatively quiet place so as not to break up that so-called dream state. For a long time, I did nothing except write from Friday through Monday, alienating romantic partners and a few friends along the way.
Luna: Though I’ve enjoyed your south of the border writings, the two excerpts that I’ve heard from your new novel intrigue me more because they seem surreal, magical, and dream-like, while still being connected to the real world. Were you describing something you saw or felt in current Los Angeles, or does it even matter where this novel takes place beyond it being a major city?
Well, surrealism or supernaturalism in art and literature is an urban construct, some credit to French Dadaists after World War I. But for me, a massive influence is mythology and folklore, particularly from animistic, pre-industrial societies that existed long before, where nature is alive, the animals assume human form, and the rocks, the caves, the forests are the highest beings, the essential truth tellers. I see our urban crisis today relates with separation from nature, from the wild spirits, so my antidote is to blend the two together to promote healing.
Luna: I want to stress that my excitement for what you’re doing now is dependent on the protagonist not coming out of a coma in a hospital, or worse, waking from a dream.
Now, that’s funny. I think we shall wake from our collective dream some call “reality” quite soon, and it won’t be pretty. I think an abstract Messiaen piano composition or Marvin Swallow’s peyote-inspired sacred artworks in the Lakota tradition, can spark people’s minds out of the mundane dream of getting to work on time. Wanda Coleman’s LA street poetry and the literary magic of Borges: Time moves imperceptibly, and we sense the immortality of it all. That’s the state of mind I never want to wake from.
Luna: As you know, I have no problem with satire, with criticism of societal idiocy or political buffoonery, as long as I don’t feel like I’m being lectured to. You’re pretty deft at jabbing needles into corporate culture with humor. Is there a point where the author’s opinions become too overwhelming, and can you reel that in yourself, or is it helpful to get feedback from others when you’re in process?
We are all political beings, even those who say: “I’m not political.” Being apolitical is a political statement, that may make some more comfortable, but how do we make sense of Greenland melting so South Beach Miami condomania must build levees to hold Cumbia dance lessons in their ballroom? Democratic Socialists have sold Ecuadorean primeval rainforests, home to as-yet-uncontacted peoples, to oil companies to service Chinese debt, the funding of a Great Society. Hunters in Montana can shoot grizzlies while they sleep on their backs, near parks where people elbow each other to get a shot, a photo of one of them. Novelists can help envision a way forward, but reading is entertainment. So, it must be fun, thrilling, surprising, whatever…
Luna: Who are five of your favorite writers? And books that have transformed and maybe mutated you?
Ugh, this question. Since I stumbled on a bearded Stephen King signing books in his wife’s Bar Harbor bookstore, I wrote my own 14-year old’s version of The Stand, where people were psychically drawn to Fort Dodge, Iowa, instead of Boulder; books inspire us, but we must always move on. I grew up in Emily Dickinson’s hometown, where we used to gather at her gravesite after school. Kafka’s The Trial, B. Traven’s The Bridge in the Jungle, Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Did I mention Thoreau? Oh, that’s six…
Luna: Do you have any book reading rituals? Half-hour at night, a couple hours on weekends?
We are in a crisis of reading, a dearth of creativity in the information age, where docu-video and presidential-140-character-posts monopolize our collective psyche. I don’t have a TV, but am of course glued to my computer because I operate a website and manage multiple social media channels. Thus, a requirement to unplug with a book becomes imagination-therapy. I might have to enter a twelve-step to really recover the incredulity of discovering Nabokov’s butterflies or a hidden Sylvia Plath poem. I read wherever and whenever I can.
The excerpt and a Max Talley interview with Jack Eidt were originally published at Luna Review
Updated 28 March 2019