Books: From the trailer park, an imitation Kafka

A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine Faber pounds 9.99
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The Independent Culture
Two years ago, the dazed, confused film director Harmony Korine wandered on to the David Letterman Show to publicise his movie, Gummo. He also discussed his literary ambitions. "I have a novel coming out called A Crackup at the Race Riots. It's about a race war, and it happens in Florida, and the Jewish people sit in trees, and the blacks are run by MC Hammer and the whites are run by Vanilla Ice." And what was his inspiration? "I wanted to write the great American choose-your- own- adventure novel."

As far as I can tell, Korine's book does not answer this description. You are not exhorted to turn to page 46 if you want MC Hammer to punch Vanilla Ice's lights out, or page 67 if you'd prefer it the other way round. And it's far from being "the ultimate post-postmodern novel", as the cover blurb insists.

Instead, it's a compendium of literary fragments: jokes, rumours, sketches, graffiti, one-line synopses, inventories. Some are scrawled in spidery child's writing, like pages ripped out of some maladjusted schoolboy's diary. Others are bashed out on a lo-fi electric typewriter. The rest are textual objets trouves from the cat-litter tray of popular culture: a cannibalised interview with Johnny Depp, a name-check for Doogie Howser MD or Andrew McCarthy. And just for that extra frisson of the forbidden, there is the occasional blue-pencilled obliteration, as if Korine has posted us his book from prison, rather than getting those nice chaps at Faber to run off a few thousand copies. It's the sort of book that Charles Manson might have kept by the lav, and I found it weirdly engrossing.

This weirdness can't be overstressed. If you saw Gummo, you'll know the territory already. If you didn't, let's just say that Korine spotted his lead actor on an episode of the Sally Jessy Raphael Show called "My Child Died from Sniffing Paint", and that its plot focuses upon two BMX boys from the Connecticut slums, who sell dead cats in order to pay for sex with a Down's Syndrome prostitute. A Crackup ... sniffs around the same moral freakshow, uncovering a cast of fat ladies, dwarfs, schoolboy Nazis and TV junkies. Most of its entries are so brief that I can actually reproduce one here in full, complete with spelling mistakes:

"When i was younger i babysat for a german family who lived a few feet from a pond. It was spring time and i was giving one of the younger children a bath. The oldest child who was around five years old ran into the bathroom Screaming her head off ... She told me that a horse had fallen into the water. When i went outside i saw a dead dear floating sideways in the pond. That night the girl admitted to me that she and a friend had set up the trip wire that caused the animal to die. it was difficult to repremand the girl because she was still too young to differentiate between a deer and a horse."

Read enough of this stuff, and you'll begin to feel Korine's creepy, trashy, twisted power. You might even start to believe in him as some kind of trailer-park Kafka. Certainly, I'd bet that by the end of the year, some keen undergraduate will have written an essay comparing his first book to Description of a Struggle. Which is fine, so long as no- one begins to treat Korine too seriously.

You might feel genuine unease when you read his outline for a film called Skinhead Boy: "1. Standing in his room doing a Nazi salute. 2. Father comes in and tells him to shave his crippled sister's legs. 3. He shaves her legs." But don't be taken in by his idea for one named Night Monster - "Murders are committed in a spooky house by a cripple who produces synthetic legs by self-hypnotism." It's been done before. He just copied it out from Halliwell's Film Guide.

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