:: Article

My Home Sick Home

By Joseph Ridgwell.

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God Bless America, Mark SaFranko, Murder Slim Press, 2010.

God Bless America by US author Mark SaFranko is the third instalment in the highly acclaimed Max Zajack trilogy, following hot on the heels of underground classics Hating Olivia and Lounge Lizard. All three novels are published by independent UK publisher Murder Slim Press and all three contain some of the finest writing to be found outside the rotting carcass that is the mainstream publishing industry.

Fans of Safranko will be familiar with the Zajack character and the brilliance of the first two novels, but in my humble opinion God Bless America is the finest of the trio. The novel charts an earlier period in the life of Max Zajack, namely his childhood and coming of age in a mostly Polish immigrant neighbourhood in 1950’s and 60’s Trenton, New Jersey.

And from the first page in the reader will be gripped, turning each page with excitement and trepidation, for the prose is snare drum tight, in turns fascinating, horrific, brutal, absurd, but more often than not simply hilarious. I’m talking laugh out loud funny lit-fiends, breath-taking, thigh-slapping, pure comic genius. It’s one of those rare books that you can read in one sitting, and yet I wouldn’t advise this, the scintillating experience would be over too fast. No, my advice would be to read a chapter a day, so as to savour the enjoyment and revel in the sheer exuberance of the writing.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Max hurtles into life at over one hundred and fifty miles an hour and almost immediately begins fucking up each and every step of the way.

There is a chilling and classic scout trip into the Catskill Mountains, where young boys do what they do best, indulge in barbaric acts of mindless cruelty, which can only end with one gruesome outcome. This scene is so well-written and paced that once read it is simply unforgettable.

Then there is the sadomasochistic nun who is more interested in flagellation than teaching, numerous family arguments, aborted vacations, deadbeat jobs, teenage kicks, mob encounters, race riots, war, blood, crime and death. This book has everything and the adventurous reader will be with Max every single step of the way as he fights psychotic teachers, disinterested girls, exploitative employers, and well-meaning yet sometimes cruel parents.

The world is out to get Max Zajack, but it is a time in life when the world is as wide as it will ever be, and young Max wants to experience as much of its crazy absurdity as he possibly can. The problem is awful luck seems to follow him wherever he goes, and no matter what he does or how he tries to behave trouble is just around the next corner waiting for him with a primed baseball bat and a sick grin.

And that, my friends, is all I’m going to tell you about God Bless America, a book so stunningly original that it is certain to become another classic like its predecessors, Hating Olivia and Lounge Lizard. A must have purchase for any head interested in new-wave fiction and progressive take-no-prisoners literature.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Ridgwell’s debut novel, Last Days of the Cross, is available from Grevious Jones Press. Oswald’s Apartment, a collection of short fiction and two chapbooks of poetry Where Are The Rebels? and Load the Guns are currently available from Blackheath Books. A further collection of poetry, Lost Elation is published in New Zealand by Kilmog Press.

His work has also appeared in short story anthologies, literary collaborations, national newspapers, and numerous online publications. The author has just completed his latest novel, Burrito Deluxe.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, August 28th, 2010.