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Forgotten Authors No.46: Gary Indiana

Christopher Fowler
Sunday 17 January 2010 01:00 GMT

Some authors are less forgotten than ignored. Gary Indiana is an author whom it is more convenient to overlook. He belongs to a special breed of American urban writers who take cool pleasure in dissecting the lives of the rich and ugly, and is possibly the most jaded chronicler of them all. On a good day, he makes Bret Easton Ellis look like Enid Blyton, yet many, myself included, think he might already have written the Great American Novel(s).

Indiana was an actor before working at New York's influential Village Voice as an art critic. He became an essayist and journalist, and wrote non-fiction on cultural phenomena from Pasolini to Warhol to Schwarzenegger. However, his first love is the satirical novel. A loose trilogy lightly fictionalised criminal cases and their accompanying media frenzies: Three Month Fever (1999) follows the disintegrating personality of Gianni Versace's murderer in Miami and the grotesque sensationalism of its press coverage; Resentment (1997) is a work of angry genius based on the circus which followed the trial of the Menendez brothers, wealthy Californians who killed their parents and left a screenplay version of events on their computer; Depraved Indifference (2002) explores more charismatic sociopathy, as a pathetic heiress is killed by mother-and-son confidence tricksters. Indiana's language is precise, literate, painfully honest and shockingly funny. He views these end-times with a reptilian eye, watching who gets to eat and who is eaten. His characters are disappointed with their share of the American dream, and become slowly poisoned by it.

But there is a problem – clearly, there has to be, otherwise the author would be as fêted as Don DeLillo or Tom Wolfe. Indiana is as detested as he is adored, for his all-encompassing cynicism, his cruelties, his refusal to sentimentalise, his immense vocabulary, his stylistic inconsistencies. He is addicted to the world that repels him so much, but moments of tenderness seep through the cracks. When he describes a conversation with his mother or the sadness of fading glamour he seems a direct descendant of Truman Capote or Tennessee Williams. His most recent book, The Shanghai Gesture, is a bizarre take on Fu Manchu, the opening sentence being "Among Those That Know, a cabal our story will elucidate in the fullness of time, rumours fluttered that Dr Obregon Petrie defied the laws of gravity when it suited his caprice." It's not typical of his work, but it's great fun.

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