Leviathan Rising — Nick Mamatas’ “Love Is The Law” (review)
There’s a lot of Thelemic hoo-ha in Nick Mamatas’ new noir novel Love Is The Law, and I am fine with that, since for a good portion of the ‘00s I ran with as gnarly a pack of wannabe Crowley-ites and ritual occultists as you could ask for. I’ve had about as much of that as a person can stand, which is to say I get the stuff, and the fastbreeding esoteric patter of narrator “Golden” Dawn Seliger is tone-perfect in this book. You don’t have to get Thelema or understand where Dawn is coming from to enjoy it, which, considering how twisty the oeuvre of the Great Beast can be is a real achievement.
Now, Trotsky and Communism and worker’s revolutions I don’t get as much, mostly due to my being Canadian (socialist utopia, I’m told!) and a woeful lack of education in these matters (as well as the disinterest bred into me by capitalist fear-mongering? Mmm possibly…) but I am fine with that, too, because Love Is The Law is a not a book about Thelema or Communism per se; I’ll borrow from the alchemy here and say it’s a crucible into which Mamatas has tossed those things along with 80s punk aesthetic, family disintegration, drug addiction, murder, conspiracy, a grimoire’s worth of black humour and just a smidge of redemption.
On the surface of it, Love Is The Law shouldn’t work: the above elements too disparate, the suburban Long Island setting too hermetic, and so on. But it’s a crucible, and though the process of reading it is rough in spots — there are some brutal characters here, Dawn’s crack addict father for one, Dawn herself for another — what comes out the other end of that process is gold. It all hangs together beautifully, and watching it happen is as close to storytelling magic as I’ve seen recently.
Dawn is a bleeding edge person, ostracized from society as much for her fierce self-determination as she is for her punk lifestyle or the fact that her family has come apart in the aftermath of her mother’s death. She’s not introduced to magic or communism by her friend and mentor Bernstein, but he certainly confirms her in her beliefs. She is, so far as she knows, his only acolyte. So when he’s discovered dead under mysterious circumstance (mysterious to Dawn, not the police, who write it off as a suicide) she determines to nail Bernstein’s murderer. From the get-go we are given to understand that Dawn is not out for justice. “Justice” is a word that Dawn has freed herself from using the Liber III vel Jugorum ritual: she cuts herself across the stomach every time she uses the word. Bleeding edge. This is a straight-up revenge tale.
Only it’s not that straight-up at all. Dawn’s powerfully Willed path to vengeance draws her ever deeper into a suburb-and-perhaps-worldwide socio-political occult conspiracy. First they’ll take Long Island, then the planet, and They in this case soon includes everyone she knows or thought she knew: Bernstein, her thoroughly nasty father, her dementia-addled grandma, comic book shop owners, metalheads, basement show punks, real estate moguls, Greek matriarchs, and a girl who may be her doppelganger. As it all comes together, Dawn the Outsider, Dawn the Invisible One, is drawn inside, to become the very visible center of a pretty horrific mandala.
It’s enough to take anyone to the lip of the Abyss, and that’s where Dawn goes. Thankfully, she has a friend down there.
Mamatas has done a superb job here, but it’s not going to be for everyone: the sexuality is frank, the relationships (such as they are) brutal, the characters abrasive in their various delusional states. It is a very alive book for all that, all coils and smoke and glowing Tarot significance. And living books get read and read again.
I loved Love Is The Law. It is my Will that you get it, and you can do that here > the publisher, Dark Horse < and here > Amazon (paperback & Kindle editions) < and I’m guessing you can order it from fine book and comic shops anywhere.
A note about format:
One of the reasons I’ve been an almost complete convert to ebooks in recent years is the easy accessibility and portability of the format. I carry a large-and-getting-larger library of titles on my Android device, and am continually surprised that my eyes are still functional. Going in to reading books in this format, I had detractors tell me I’d ruin my vision, something I half believed myself. Hasn’t happened yet, and it’s not going to, because the devices and the ereader apps keep getting better and blah blah blah yeah I’m an ebook booster.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my paper books like hell. I grew up on horror and sci-fi paperbacks I bought at a musty old closet of a bookstore nestled in the wheezing heart of a strip mall and brother, I bought them by the pound.
So when my review copy of Love Is The Law showed up in my mailbox and it was a paperback, and what’s more, a pocket sized paperback? Something I could jam in the back of my jeans, let it get all dog-eared and bent, and whip it out to read some while waiting for the gang down at the corner store? Well, colour me sold. Maybe this isn’t a return to the hoary old days of pulp novels in all their lurid, transient glory, but it feels like it could be.
Sure, I’ll pick up the ebook too, but this copy, just sitting there, has that physical “yeah, I’m a fucking book, what else ya gonna do with me?” imperative that ebooks just do not have. What are you gonna do? You’re gonna read it.
And then you’re gonna jam it back in your pocket and make all your hipster friends jealous.