Will Work For Drugs
By Beth Harrington.
“Yeah, right. I wish they made enough good drugs to reward the blood and brain matter I have splattered over these pages,” writes Lydia Lunch in the introduction to Will Work for Drugs, attempting to reassure readers that this collection of essays, fiction, poems, and interviews is not just another catalogue of punk-rock, narcotic exploits. Lunch sang in the underground band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and anyone who has heard her voice knows that it would be beautiful if it wasn’t so calculatedly ugly. The same can be said for her literature. Her last major book Paradoxia charted her hallucinatory path from sixteen year-old runaway to major influence in the 1980s New York City alternative scene. In Will Work for Drugs she examines our skewed world as an established insurgent against its ludicrous standards.
Lunch’s thesis is that certain people are destined to suffer in life and there is no way to prevent them from their preordained destruction: though cruel upbringings and a shallow, intolerant world do not help. “We have all been victimized at some point because of our gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, religion, or lack of,” she writes in the afterword “Sick with Desire.” However, such a blanket generalization contradicts itself. Plenty of people are walking around with iPods and designer handbags who don’t appear victimized. A parallel argument is that if everyone is a victim, no one is a victim in particular.
That Lydia Lunch considers everyone a victim is more mystifying when one considers the wounds inflicted on her in early life by forces far crueler than “The American Way of Life.” In “Canasta” thirteen year-old Lydia is deposited on her father’s doorstep after her mother’s “latest loser” makes a pass at her. Her father proves no improvement, gambling away his daughter’s virginity in a poker tournament. Yet Lunch refuses to pigeonhole herself as powerless in the hands of her assailant. “The first time he thrusts, it hurts. Him. ‘Easy! Easy! Easy!’ he wails at me. I giggle, amazed.” Like the gang-raped protagonist in Virginie Despentes’ Baise Moi, she learns early on that one way to resist abuse is not to be hurt by it.
As a writer, Lunch’s prose is distinct in its defiance of current literary standards emphasizing simplicity and restraint. Her text is infused with an electricity that sends her words kicking and punching off the page. She is not afraid to lay it on thick, but it works and it is hard to believe that someone who is pushing fifty can still get so fired up about life and her ambivalent quest to escape it. It is also refreshing.
If Lydia Lunch confessed that she had moved to the suburbs and found contentment as a wife and mother, some people might applaud her for growing up and settling down, but they were likely never her fans in the first place.
Lunch writes best on a clearly defined subject in which she demonstrates how her unorthodox perspective renders her both outcast and outlaw to mainstream society. “Motherhood: It’s Not Compulsory” is the bad girls’ guide to not having babies, laying out the crude truth about maternity so unapologetically that its gleeful irreverence borders on objectivity. “[Childbirth] seems the single most unnatural act that a woman would ever consciously perpetuate against herself.” In “Assume the Position” she reminisces on her lifelong vocation as a cop-tease. “I’ve never had a beef with the police. Never been hassled, harassed, or assaulted by the cops. They, however, can’t say the same thing about me.” Defying readers’ expectations, Lunch divulges that she has only been arrested once.
As Will Work for Drugs nears its conclusion, the fictional “The Devil’s Racetrack: Ray Trailer” takes place inside the mind and jail cell of a man imprisoned for killing a woman with whom he had a disturbing affair in public places. The story provides flashbacks of the obsessive past juxtaposed against the inert present until the killer acknowledges his guilt but not in the way he is expected to. “She set me up. But I was stupid enough to take the fall.” In Lunch’s worldview, every victim assumes their rightful place as perpetrator.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Beth Harrington resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Her nonfiction has appeare in BookSlut and Venus(online). Her fiction has appeared in Fifth Street Review (now-defunct), Kaleidoscope: Emmanuel College Magazine, and Cherry Bleeds: Literary Transgressions as well as its 2005 print anthology. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and was the 2007 recipient of the James T. and Ellen M. Hatfield Memorial Prize for a short story at Smith College.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, July 9th, 2009.