Humbert Humbert in the Heart of the Pornocracy: SRJones reviews NIRA/SUSSA
I’m primarily concerned with horror in my work, and as such I’m all too aware of how the genre can bog down in its own awfulness and become comfortable with the feelings it delivers. Which is why I appreciate it when writing that is not horror brings that emotion to the forefront. Even better if the horror is that of Self, of the shadow within. Enter NIRA/SUSSA…
With NIRA/SUSSA, author Julian Darius has created a Lolita for the 21st Century: brutal in its honesty and honest about its brutality. And make no mistake, this is a brutal piece of fiction, on a par with the work of Brett Easton Ellis or Nick Tosches at his noir-ish best. NIRA/SUSSA explores the DMZs and No Man’s Lands between writing and living, man and woman, sex and love, fiction and reality with skill, eloquence, and, at the end of the day, a helluva lotta nerve. There are only a few writers these days who dare to go to the places this book goes.
As with Ellis, there were moments where I had to stop reading Darius’ book: moments of fear, of shame, of clear-eyed appraisal of my own history. He goes places (within the narrative itself, and within the soul of man: within your own soul, if you are honest, and NIRA/SUSSA ensures that you will be by the time you reach the hinge of it) that make you recoil in disgust at the same time you are attracted. This is a book you lean into, horrified, like a spectacular car wreck that you crane to see more of, even though the seeing will scar you. This is Humbert-Humbert’s journey of exploitation and transcendence, transposed from mid-20th Century middle-America into the bleeding-edge realities of our current moral minefield, into the heart of the international pornocracy. This is lovely, dangerous Lolita with a black AmEx and a free pass to the Castle of Silling. This is the author, as narrator and as educator, asking the reader: well? What would you do, if there was no one to stop you?
Perhaps there are readers out there who would respond with “well, I wouldn’t do that!” but NIRA/SUSSA claims, and rightly so, I think, that they protest too much. The real horror of the book lies in the moment when it forces you to map your own proclivities, kinks, and hidden desires onto a larger stage. Does a club such as the one detailed here exist? Do such things happen? Do such things have the potential to happen, given enough money and power and prestige? Just how far do people go?
What would you do, how would you change yourself, and others, if there was no one to stop you?
It’s a really awful (in the original sense) question to ask, and it takes a lot to ask it, and not botch the asking (or the novel) in the attempt. Darius has succeeded here, to my mind, and I’d love to see NIRA/SUSSA get more exposure, though it’s the kind of book that will likely give the majority of readers digestive trouble.
NIRA/SUSSA deconstructs many things (social fabrics, moral boundaries, the writer/reader relationship, itself) and though it tidies up after itself a little towards the end, there are some messy parts to it that refuse easy resolution, some negligible holes in the plot, the odd off-note in characterization (would the narrator really find a hotel room with a pool to be as amazing as he does, all things considered?) and, in a narrative that is utterly believable most of the time, the occasional moment of “seriously?” (the narrator parading Nonette around town in restaurants despite an earlier concern about his employers finding out about their unconventional relationship)… but these moments are few and far between and do nothing to lessen the impact of this very daring novel.
NIRA/SUSSA is going to stick with me for a while, as much perhaps as Ellis’ American Psycho, Tosches’ In the Hand of Dante (which has similar things to say about writing and living truly), and of course Nabokov’s Lolita, to which this is a loving tribute and excellent companion piece. Recommended.