After making his debut as a self-loathing ex-junkie cop in Jerry Stahl's Plainclothes Naked (2001), he returns as a self-loathing, full-fledged (and supposedly clean and sober) private eye in Pain Killers.
Guilt and self-loathing? This guy mainlines them.
Of course, he's got a rather large monkey on his back, and when he falls off the wagon, he really falls off the wagon. Which means no degradation, no debauchery, no wallow and no metaphorical shitty diaper is too disgusting to rub our faces in.
All of which should be expected. Manny's creator is, after all, Mister "Permanent Midnight" himself.
This time out, Manny is hired to go undercover, posing as a drug therapist counselling San Quentin inmates, in an effort to expose an elderly prisoner with a German accent who just may be notorious Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele. And, oh! the irony! Did I mention Manny's Jewish?
This is the flimsy foundation upon which Stahl builds his story, which consists of a series of loosely connected, deliberately squirm-inducing little set pieces, from lovingly recited Nazi atrocities to various sexual, chemical and scatalogical abuses, occasionally leavened by some genuinely funny -- if rude --wisecracks. Whether that will be enough to keep you reading will depend on your stomach for high concepts in low places.
You've heard of black humour? This is brown humour.
I dunno -- I think most people already agree the Nazis were pure evil, but there's something so wearisome and tired and forced about this book that I had real difficulties reading it right to the end. The real outrage I felt was at how predictable and shallow it all felt. Stahl may have inadvertently succeeded where Holocaust deniers and their ilk have failed, by turning the unspeakable into the uninteresting.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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